How net zero energy makeovers conquer Europes homes
“There are two major problems in the world. One is the difference in wealth between people. The other is climate change,” Ron Van Erck is convinced.
In many respects, this helps to explain why Van Erck took on the challenging role of overseeing international market development for Energiesprong: a Netherlands company seeking to radically transform the home renovation industry, by converting aging blocks of residences into Net Zero Energy communities.
“The benefits of whole neighbourhood regeneration are immense. Beyond the argument of energy efficiency, residents are given the opportunity to live in a more desirable, more comfortable home where moisture, draft and mould have been eliminated. So they’re no longer ashamed of where they live.”
It’s an elegant solution that concurrently addresses the challenges of inequality and climate change.
Why aim for such a lofty goal as converting homes to Net Zero in the first place? “If you want to reduce CO2 emissions by 80-90 percent, you need building stock to get close to Net Zero,” says Van Erck. In a best case scenario, through individual measures such as adding loft insulation and adding triple pane glass, homeowners might get to 50-60 percent efficiency. But he says only through a whole house solution, as with Energiesprong’s approach, are higher efficiencies possible. One of the most impactful prerequisites of an Engiesprong retrofit, is wrapping the homes with an insulated, airtight exterior facade. Using drones and 3D modeling software, prefabricated exterior panels are manufactured to within a millimeter of accuracy. And the retrofit process is so streamlined that the entire job, involving installing the façade, smart heating and cooling and insulated rooftops with solar panels is completed within a week.
Yet surprisingly, Energiesprong isn’t a construction company, but as Van Erck puts it “a market transformation initiative” that identifies countries that meet the right criteria in terms of having: an abundance of social housing stock; open-minded governments that embrace the concept of giving older homes a new lease on life by making them significantly more energy efficient; and innovative local construction companies willing and able to make the dramatic leap from small scale craftmanship to quality, mass customized industrialization of the home renovation industry. With these criteria in mind, Van Erck says that when talking to mayors and local officials, his first question is to ask, “do you have a market that’s conducive to getting started at this point in time?”
Energiesprong is currently operating in the Netherlands, France, the UK, Germany, the U.S. and Canada. One of Van Erck’s goals is to engage more cities within these markets and build on the economies of scale that have already been achieved.
Assuming the desired inventory of homes and market conditions are in place, Van Erck says the first community Net Zero retrofit project can involve as few as 10 homes, in order to get the right localized model and methodologies in place. “But then you need to ramp up to 300-400 homes per year for each company, with two or three companies involved. That way, you can quickly go from 10 to 1,000 homes. And then, once you are doing 3,000-5,000 homes a year, it gets you to the scale needed for industrialization.”
Not surprisingly, the Netherlands – where it all started, is the first market in the world that is on the cusp of industrializing the process of retrofitting homes to Net Zero. “We’ll do 4,000 this year and probably double that next year,” says Van Erck. They are also in the midst of brokering a deal involving 6,500 homes in France, with opportunities on a comparable scale in the UK.
Arguably even more visionary than Energiesprong’s goal of radically transforming the home building and renovation industry, is the fact that the company’s primary mandate isn’t tied to making money. “We’re working with a not for profit model,” Van Erck reveals. “If you tie yourself to profit, other stakeholders won’t see you as a broker any more. So our interest is scaling the market, with any profits going back into that effort.”
And the company’s exit strategy, literally, is to exit the market once their job is done. “We never intended to be here for eternity. It was always, the sooner we can leave, the more successful we’ve been,” observes Van Erck. “It’s not a very capitalistic approach I suppose.”
With several thousand homes being retrofitted year over year now in the Netherlands, Van Erck says Energiesprong’s work is pretty much done.
“Our market intervention there is no longer necessary. We’re doing a bit with multi-story buildings, but with low rise social housing, it’s now business as usual. It’s there. It works.”
In other words, they’ve achieved a scale that makes it possible to industrialize the process of retrofitting homes to Net Zero.
So now, Energiesprong it is turning its attention to other markets… with the admirable goal of making themselves redundant as soon as possible in those markets as well.
Net Zero Energy Housing
Our mission… is to enforce the transformation of the construction industry.
In the beginning… you sort of bluff your way through the process until you have enough momentum to move things along.
Our ideal partners… are the most innovative ones within an ecosystem.
The process of change… is tedious and slow. It requires habits embedded in organizations to change.