A new approach to energy and light: subsidies to heating costs instead of insulation “it’s crazy”

People are primarily interested in one topic: energy security. Just talking about the most economical consumption possible is not effective, says Mycle Schneider. What is the use of electricity or gas if you can’t pay for it? “In France, up to 60 percent of energy costs are subsidized,” explains the energy consultant at the Climate Lab ntv. If you took this money and renovate the houses, consumption would drop drastically – and forever. That would be a “sensible energy policy” that should apply in six areas, says Schneider: “It must be warm in winter and cool in summer. You need light, cooked food, mobility, communication and engine power. ” If roofs are reasonably designed and homes, offices, factories and supermarkets are properly insulated, in some cases there is no need to use any energy at all.

ntv.de: You prefer to talk about intelligent energy services than about energy security. Why?

Mycle Schneider: We always discuss kilowatt hours, cubic meters of gas, tons of oil or coal. But it’s not basically about units of energy, but what you can do about it: generate heat, cold, and light, and most of all, cook your food naturally.

So it’s not about saving as much energy as possible?

Mycle Schneider is an energy consultant and editor of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR).

(Photo: Nina Schneider)

A sound energy policy must ensure that citizens always have access to these energy services and not to gas or oil. It must be warm in winter and cool in summer. You need light, cooked food, mobility, communication and engine power. Here are six categories you can define.

And that should be taken into account regardless of how much gas or electricity is consumed for it?

The key is that as many services as possible are passively covered. This means, for example, that a house has very low consumption if it is reasonably designed.

Because it’s well insulated?

Yes. You can do it today so well that you no longer need active heating in winter. And if it’s warm in winter, it’s cool in summer too. Then you can completely abandon the kilowatt-hour issue. By the way, everyone brings warmth. An architect once told me at a conference about the first zero-energy houses in Sweden. When the thermometer dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius in winter, they called the owners and asked if everything was okay. They replied that they had to open the windows because it was too warm at their party.

So it’s basically about building houses and other buildings in such a way that they use as little energy as possible from scratch?

Exactly. Regardless of the form, as little energy as possible should be provided. This is true for each of these six areas: If I isolate, I don’t need to heat. If I use daylight, I don’t need a lamp.

It doesn’t sound revolutionary at all.

In the current debate on the coming winter, it can be seen that many people are unaware that it is not electricity that counts, but heat, because half of Germans heat them with natural gas and a quarter with oil. Heat three-quarters with flammable materials. This is a key German problem. If we were not talking about natural gas consumption, but about district heating services, we would have had a much more fruitful debate about what should and should not be done.

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In addition, many people do not know that reducing heating by one degree can save seven percent of energy. These are orders of magnitude that really cost money, but also have a very serious underpinning: many people have been cold in recent winters. In France, official surveys show that one in five households is classified as energy poor and claims to have been cold for at least one day in the winter of 2021.

Because people cannot afford heating?

Because they cannot afford to use it, and buildings in France are much less insulated than in Germany. But we must remember this: it is easy to tell people to tighten their belts or reduce the temperature. But what about the people who have to decide every day whether to spend money on food or on heating? They depend on emergency programs based on heating demand.

So we have to stop talking about gas, oil and electricity and start talking about heat, light and cooking? So ask: When do we need what energy for what? And don’t just say: we must save energy everywhere.

So it is! What is the purpose of gas combustion? What’s the score? These questions should be ubiquitous, not kilowatt hours or cubic meters of gas. We just realize that energy costs an insane amount of money, we are talking about insane sums. So the question is: what are the options? What can I achieve for the given proportion of the money I spend today on heating, lighting, communication and mobility?

And if families have to look twice at what they buy in the supermarket, it would be best if they did not have to spend money on heating the house, because their apartment is insulated and does not cool down.

In France, energy costs are massively subsidized, with low incomes, up to 60 percent of electricity bills paid. This is crazy. If you take the money and renovate houses instead, consumption will drop drastically, people’s well-being will improve, and of course the bills will drop, not just once.

Why is this not happening?

It’s not like nothing is happening. In Frankfurt, the Klinikum Frankfurt Höchst is the first hospital to be certified according to the passive house standard. There is a significant reduction in energy consumption as the building is super insulated with triple glazing and so on. Final. However, all waste heat is also used. Heat is emitted by all the people who work there, all patients and all equipment. You can take advantage of it, then the consumption drops drastically.

Do people avoid building passive buildings because energy loses revenues as a result?

Of course, energy producers have an interest in selling their energy. But it is also easier for politicians and all kinds of stakeholders to imagine being produced and consumed. It is easier and more tangible to talk about a solar panel than about an insulating material. Of course, you also have to say: if you want to change something structurally, you have to enter the existing structure. In new construction, the building renewal rate is so low that it would take decades to reach a good level.

So all old buildings should be renovated, and then large areas should be insulated?

Yes, there are also some really great model projects in various European cities where whole parts of the city are being completely renovated. There, energy consumption then drops by at least 40-50 percent, and sometimes even by 70 percent. This is not technically feasible everywhere, but you can go so far as to do so.

What would be the maximum that could be saved through intelligent use of energy?

Currently, it is technically possible to build plus-energy houses. They generate more energy than they consume because they have solar panels on their roofs or facades. But at Klinikum Frankfurt Höchst, for example, no solar panels were built on the roof, as there is a heliport there. This is a good example of “intelligent”. You always have to think about competition. The roof area is now limited. If you want to generate energy there, but at the same time want daylight to flow in, you need to clearly define your priorities from the very beginning, what you can do most efficiently.

But what is no longer possible is not using any space at all? It probably won’t be enough for that.

Yes of course. Then we get multifunctionality, hybrid solutions. In agriculture, for example, there is phenomenal progress in agrophotovoltaics. This means that the panels are mounted at agricultural levels at a height of approximately three meters. Then you can still raise sheep or cattle or grow crops underneath them. As the temperature rises, plants naturally protect against direct sunlight in summer thanks to shading and growth enhancement. In the first results of research from France, such areas yield 40% or even twice as much.

Do you have other examples of thinking about this type of energy consumption systemically and on a large scale?

Many large companies deal with their lighting. Boeing, for example, rebuilt its kilometer-long assembly line because someone calculated that switching to daylight could save an incredible amount of energy and money. However, thanks to such projects, it turned out that sick leave among employees decreased and productivity increased by 15 percent. Rebuilding would pay for itself in three or four years on the basis of energy savings alone. Due to the side effects, the payback period was shortened to several months.

Because people work better in daylight?

Yes. People feel better in daylight, so they work better, make fewer mistakes and get sick less often. There are also examples of retail: Walmart, the world’s largest supermarket chain, has compared daylight stores to those that are artificially lit. Many supermarket chains have fantastic roof surfaces for this. The result was: Not only do your employees feel better, and you save an incredible amount of energy – 40 to 60 percent – but your customers also feel better. What are customers who feel better doing? They buy more, up to 40 percent at Walmart. There are so many examples to show that daylight makes sense, also in schools. Then the children learn better. And when you work better and learn in the daylight, you feel better and cheaper, all offices, schools, workshops and shops should be rebuilt.

Office lamps are purchased in front of daylight to improve employee motivation, mood and well-being.

Incidentally, these daylight lamps are very expensive and only bring sunlight closer. The imitation of daylight is still not technically possible. Another argument for daylight.

Clara Pfeffer and Christian Herrmann spoke to Mycle Schneider. The conversation has been shortened and smoothed out for better understanding.

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