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Decarbonising the built environment

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By Peter Van der Borgh

When considering effective ways to achieve net zero emissions, policymakers tend to focus on renewable energy sources and greener means of transport, often ignoring a key element of the energy transition: the decarbonisation of the built environment.

In fact, in order to meet the Paris Agreement objectives and limit global warming to 1.5˚C compared to pre-industrial levels, we must halve CO2 emissions in the built environment by 2030 and fully decarbonise it by 2050.

According to official EU data, the region’s buildings account for 40% of our energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. At present, approximately 75% of the EU’s building stock is not energy efficient.

These numbers show that the entire region stands to benefit from the improvement of existing buildings and the use of energy efficient materials in construction.

Buildings can integrate both energy production and storage, taking on an active role in the energy system and essentially becoming efficient micro energy hubs.

Steps taken by EU and Cyprus

Last year, the European Commission published its proposal to revise the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, as part of the Fit for 55% Package, an important step towards zero net carbon goals.

The proposal introduces changes aimed at decarbonising the building sector, including stricter standards, revisions to national building renovation plans, and a new requirement for life-cycle emission calculations for new builds.

Acknowledging the fact that the buildings we work, shop, and live in also contribute to climate change, the Cypriot government has also taken steps to make them greener.

The Save and Upgrade scheme offers Cypriots a financial incentive to make their homes more energy efficient, covering the cost of upgrading homes with an energy rating of C or lower. The aim of the €30 mln scheme launched on March 9, is to reduce their energy consumption by at least 60%.

Copper’s role in decarbonisation

In general, decarbonising the built environment requires a combination of energy efficiency measures (such as insulation or heat recovery), as well as the deployment of on-site renewable energy generation (such as photovoltaic PV) and energy storage (thermal or electrical).

Because of its superior thermal and electrical conductivity and its ability to enhance many building technologies, copper can take on a key role in this process.

According to the EU Energy Roadmap 2050, copper-enabled decarbonising technologies can abate some 75% of EU greenhouse gas emissions.

The red metal can be recycled again and again without loss of quality and can be used in many ways in a building, improving its environmental performance and reducing its carbon footprint.

Copper is considered the best material for wiring and plumbing, but it is also used in other applications like roofing and cladding. Though expensive, a copper roof can last many decades under the right conditions.

Copper also plays an important role in renewable energy, as large quantities of the metal are used in the construction of wind turbines and solar panels. It can be then recycled and reused without losing its natural properties.

According to the European Copper Institute, copper can reduce the EU’s carbon emissions by 25%, or more than 1.1 billion tonnes a year, by 2050.

By investing in copper, the European Union and Cyprus can achieve its decarbonisation goals and make a difference to our world.

Peter Van der Borgh is Managing Director of Venus Minerals