Renovation
Energy Efficiency
Climate Change
Sustainability

Driving innovation through renovation in Copenhagen

Susanne Dyrbøl
Susanne Dyrbøl
12 May 2020

Using smart energy systems, testing new technologies, and investing in deep energy retrofits helps Copenhagen remain a leading driver of renovation action.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

All over the world, individual city councils are leading the fight against climate change. More and more cities now have concrete goals in place to achieve carbon neutrality in the coming decades. Some, like Copenhagen, have even more ambitious goals. This city is aiming to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. To achieve this, the city and its government have become a global driver for energy-efficient renovation and innovation within the building space and its energy sector.

Research consistently shows that cities can reduce the most carbon emissions by making their existing buildings more energy-efficient. A 2018 Heat Roadmap for Europe (HRE) report found that using known technologies to improve the heating and cooling systems of buildings could reduce carbon emissions by 86 percent when combined with energy renovation of buildings. This was based on a comparison to 1990 levels — and reached at a lower cost based on combining an integrated new energy system design with deeper energy renovations of buildings.

Investing in energy renovation – The Copenhagen way

In Copenhagen, city leaders are looking to their building stock. As the city continues to grow – its population is expected to reach 715,000 by 2030 compared to around 613,000 today – the city’s energy demand, especially for heating and cooling, is projected to outpace its current supply.

A district heating system already covers 97 percent of Copenhagen’s buildings. Reducing energy consumption in municipal buildings will decrease greenhouse gas emissions by seven percent. But more importantly, it will help alleviate pressure on the district heating system during peak demand periods, helping avoid or postpone the need to invest in new heating capacity for the city.

Using smart sector integration and policies to achieve clean heat

Energy efficiency reduces heat demand and the investment required to decarbonise heat. Considering that one-third of the energy demand in the EU goes towards heating buildings and around 75% of heat is still produced by burning fossil fuels, a recent report by the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) recommends using the principles of smart sector integration to ensure EU reaches its’ 2030 energy and climate target by driving a renovation-wave across the region.

The principles of smart sector integration are:

  • Emphasise efficiency first – When selecting what projects to prioritise, put energy-efficiency top of the agenda. Step up energy efficiency building upgrades through more ambitious targets and policies
  • Recognise the value of flexible heat loads – A well insulated building can be decoupled from the heating system over longer periods of peak load, helping make the system more robust
  • Understand the emission effects of changes in load – Energy efficiency reduces heat demand and the investment required to decarbonise heat. It also enables electrified buildings to serve as a flexible resource and to help low-carbon and zero-carbon heating systems operate at higher performance
  • Design tariffs to reward necessary flexibility – Encourage the flexible use of heat through the introduction of time-varying prices. Set policies that reward electricity use when it benefits the power system with favourable tariffs

For city governments, using these principles in a holistic way will enable them to decarbonise space-heating systems and postpone investments in new infrastructure simply by renovating buildings to keep a comfortable indoor climate with a lower heating demand. As Copenhagen started their journey down this road more than thirty years ago, they are now reaping the rewards and can take further action to achieve even more efficiency gains.

Developing and testing smart energy systems in Copenhagen

Smart energy systems will be vital to avoid huge investments in new heating capacity as the city grows. Copenhagen expected this and started to develop and test future energy solutions back in 2015 during the development of new areas within the city. EnergyLab Nordhavn was such a project that ran from 2015 to 2019 to acquire valuable knowledge in the design, implementation, and scaling of smart energy management systems. With 40 percent of Copenhagen’s electricity generated by wind power, automating system management for the efficient utilisation of intermittent sources gives the city greater flexibility and control over their grid. It also produced valuable intellectual property in the process.  

Lessons learned from EnergyLab Nordhavn

The project took a holistic approach, integrating both the sources of energy and the consumer’s management systems, leading to innovative solutions and products. Now called New Urban Energy Ventures, the knowledge gained from the initiatives led to practical solutions and real-world technologies that enable integration with the entire heating and energy system.

Some of the project highlights include:

  • Taking a holistic approach by taking the thermal and energy-efficiency of buildings into account
  • Implementing an optimised energy system using intelligent and flexible management capabilities
  • Integrating heating systems in apartments and homes to improve grid efficiency
  • Using storage systems, such as large batteries, to stabilise the management of intermittent sources

The partnership between public and private stakeholders puts Copenhagen in the lead when it comes to achieving — and even exceeding — the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The valuable insights gained from EnergyLab Nordhavn will shape the decisions of the future. It gives the city an advantage when it comes to addressing societal needs and fighting climate change. By reducing demand for and the costs associated with zero-carbon heating, energy efficiency can also support a more socially equitable heat transformation.

Driving innovation through renovation in Copenhagen

Part of Copenhagen’s holistic strategy includes improving the efficiency of municipal buildings to reduce demand for its heating infrastructure. Deep energy retrofits of five schools as part of a pilot project allows city administrators to understand the investment required and gains available from energy-efficient renovation projects.

Some of the benefits from the pilot project with the five schools included:

  • Achieving 19 percent reduction in energy costs
  • Reducing 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Creating 34 full-time jobs for the city
  • Providing productivity value gains of $840K

By retrofitting the building envelopes, glazing, HVAC and lighting systems of forty schools, Copenhagen can maximise the gains and reduce future strain on their heating and cooling energy systems. They can also avoid adding 1,272 tonnes of CO2 to the environment every year while postponing large capital investments in the heating infrastructure.

Benefits from acting on smart energy systems and renovation

Wider benefits available to cities that adopt these approaches include social upliftment, improved population health, increased economic activity and jobs, and improved environment and well-being for citizens. By improving the energy efficiency in buildings and optimising their energy systems, city governments can speed up their carbon reduction goals while learning from leaders in the field, such asCopenhagen. Prioritising deep energy retrofitting can help cities weather the challenges of climate change and build a more resilient urban environment for its inhabitants.