Building renovation needs to be speeded up – synthesis on the main topic of "Buildings and Settlements"

From a technical perspective, the objectives of Energy Strategy 2050 are already achievable in the building sector. However, there is a lack of up-to-date legislation and knowledge amongst experts.

​Only one out of a hundred houses per year are renovated to make them more energy efficient - less than half the number needed to achieve the goals of the Energy Strategy 2050 for buildings. The National Research Programme "Energy" shows that the necessary technologies are available, but there is a lack of appropriate planning, building and energy laws, as well as of expertise.

Approximately half of the energy consumed in Switzerland can be attributed to the construction and running of the country’s building stock. Energy Strategy 2050 states that in 2035 energy consumption for heating, cooling and warm water should be around 40 per cent lower than the value recorded in 2010 despite the resident population being forecast to grow by approximately 13 per cent. How this goal could be achieved has been examined in the main topic "Buildings and settlements" of the National Research Programme "Energy" (NRP 70/71).

How buildings can deliver more and consume less energy

"Technologically, the goals of Energy Strategy 2050 are already achievable for buildings today: heat pumps, wood-fired systems, waste heat generated from industrial activities and solar cells could provide heating and hot water sustainably with a net zero carbon footprint. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) can also generate more electricity in Switzerland than required by the building stock. Furthermore, intelligent management of energy supply and demand can make the building stock significantly more energy-efficient," says Professor Hans-Rudolf Schalcher, president of the NRP 70 Steering Committee, outlining the range of technologies spotlighted by the programme.

But technology is not enough. Users also need to make a contribution if the goals of Energy Strategy 2050 are to be achieved. This doesn't mean less comfort and convenience, rather we need to use energy more intelligently. The NRP "Energy” provides interesting insights into this aspect as well.

New buildings, new regulations

But implementation is considerably lagging behind the real possibilities. The renovation rate with respect to the existing building stock stands at only approximately 1 per cent per year. At this rate, the goals of Energy Strategy 2050 cannot be achieved on time. A rate at least twice as high would be needed, as a detailed case study has shown for Altstetten in the Canton of Zurich.

"Today's laws and regulations are no longer in line with current requirements and possibilities," says Hans-Rudolf Schalcher. "The cantons need to focus their planning, construction and energy-related legislation on the quick and cost-efficient implementation of Energy Strategy 2050 and simplify the authorisation and approval procedures. This is of particular significance for the next revision of the model provisions of the cantons in the energy sector (MuKEn) and their systematic implementation. The MuKEn should focus on a few clearly defined and understandable target values."

Buildings for the future

Optimising energy consumption across the building stock concerns various stakeholder groups. The NRP "Energy” has condensed the results of about 40 research projects, which investigated the topic from different perspectives, into recommendations for those stakeholders that directly influence the future of the building stock in Switzerland.

In this context, filling knowledge gaps among all actors - the general public as well as experts - through education and communication measures is key. "Only then will the young people who are today demonstrating for a liveable world be able to continue and complete this work," says Hans-Rudolf Schalcher.

Information on the research projects and the entire synthesis report on "Buildings and Settlements" are available on the web portal