Climate change affects everybody. It causes floodings, heat and droughts, severe weather and biodiversity losses.

Politics have identified the threats of climate change and, as a reaction, try to find agreements to limit human made global warming in order to avoid unmanageable economical, ecological and health risks. The Paris Agreement on climate change stipulates a limit of well below 2 °C warming compared to pre-industrial values. European national states, municipalities and the European Union have launched various strategies, like the so-called “Sustainable Energy Action Plans” (SEAPs) to stimulate cuttings of greenhouse gas emissions.

Since it is the largest single energy consumer in Europe, the European Union has lined out ambitious goals to raise energy efficiency in the building sector. Additionally, legal obligations, such as an EU directive on energy performance of buildings and energy efficiency, are planned or have already come into force. They form part of a larger EU strategy called “Clean energy for all Europeans”, which has been formulated in the light of the Paris Agreement to facilitate a clean energy transition in the European Union.

The audience listening to a speech.
The audience listening to the speeches on best practice examples given by experts from municipalities, housing companies, initiatives, metering and energy firms.

The first international conference held by Act Now! and its partner project LowTEMP in Gdynia (Poland) in October aimed at filling the “action gap” between CO2 reduction strategies and real greenhouse gas emissions. The conference explicitly wanted to contribute to the question: “How to put energy efficiency plans and concepts into action?”.

LowTEMP wants to increase the efficiency of district heating grids by implementation of low temperature systems, while Act Now! suggests that capacity building in local administrations could be the trigger for energy efficiency in buildings. In Act Now!, staff members will be trained in energy management, investment planning and communication with private investors and facility users. Two conference days were packed with inspirational talks and stimulating workshops and allowed networking between municipal representatives, companies, policy makers, scientists and other stakeholders.

In order to get buildings modernized and heating systems refurbished, cities need to support their residents with guidance, subsidies and other incentives. “Let neighbours tell the benefits” says Christian Oxenvad, energy expert from the “smart energy city” Albertslund (Denmark), pointing out how measures can spread in the neighbourhood when people are convinced and recognize that proper insulation, refurbishment of the heating system and replacement of old windows actually pay out over time.

Madara Zvirgzdina, Energy Coordinator in the policy area „Energy“ within the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. She works for the Ministry of Economics of the Republic of Latvia.

Madara Zvirgzdiņa takes the same line, saying that you “have to take people with you” if you would like to promote energy efficiency measures. She is a coordinator of the policy area “Energy” within the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and works for the Ministry of Economics of the Republic of Latvia and believes in a stimulating effect of showing best practice examples and exchanging experiences across country borders.

Two thematic groups discussed “energy management and energy monitoring” (focused on the Act Now! project) and “energy efficiency in district heating systems/low temperature district heating” (focused on the LowTEMP project). In the first group, different technical solutions for smart metering were presented by a company representative and a staff of a public housing company based in Bremerhaven (Germany). “With the strict budget inherent to public housing, it was not easy to find a solution for Bremerhaven”, said Joanna Szczepanska-Lensch of Seestadt Immobilien.

Joanna Szczepanska-Lensch of Bremerhaven’s Seestadt Immobilien, a public housing company in Germany.

“Nevertheless, we found a software solution from a German company which, after some initial adjustments, was well-accepted by our facility managers and had a significant impact on the energy consumption of our properties. This is the most important point if you want to have actual savings in the end: You have to get your staff members to accept the system and to actively use it – otherwise your effort will be worthless.”

In a final session on “Energy Efficient Cities”, Peter Rathje presented “The Sønderborg Case” from Denmark. In an umbrella approach called “ProjectZero”, the project fosters collaboration between private companies, politicians and citizens and brings them together with initiatives, workshops, education and counselling offers, in order to turn the city carbon neutral by 2029. “Klimastadt Bremerhaven” (climate city Bremerhaven), explained by its representative Till Scherzinger, is another example of a municipal initiative bundling climate-related activities in a central office. The “Klimastadt” concept comprises institutions such as the Jugendklimarat (youth climate council) or a round table on energy efficiency as well as various information and communication events and programmes.

The conference brought together communal representatives, energy experts and politicians from different regions of the Baltic Sea area in order to foster exchange and provide inspirations. Vivid talks and many questions during the workshops, a poster session and a panel discussion in the end of the conference have pointed out the demand for such communication activities. The best-practice examples from countries around the Baltic Sea have generated considerable interest in the audience. Many requests from the guests have shown that exchange of ideas and concepts as well as the presentation of tools and software are picked up by the participants and can be fruitful for the implementation of energy strategies.

Presentations and pictures from the conference are available online.