Key take aways: Citizen Engagement – Accelerate the Clean Energy Transition

Jun 13, 2023

This webinar as part of the EUSEW sustainable energy days that took place on 5 June from 14 to 15:30 CEST, served as a platform for exchanging ideas and forging partnerships to shape the future of urban environments with a particular emphasis on citizen engagement, affordable housing, energy efficiency, and digitalisation. oPEN Lab teamed up with the Smart Cities Marketplace, Atelier, the Affordable Housing and Citizen-Led Renovation Initiatives for this webinar.

oPEN Lab

Kaspar Alev from the city of Tartu discussed the oPEN Lab project and its focus on triggering renovation activities in Tartu. Tartu is a city located in Estonia and is known as the intellectual and cultural hub of the country. oPEN Lab is part of Tartu’s efforts to contribute to the European Green Deal and promote sustainability. Alev focussed on the importance of working with the community and involving citizens in the decision-making process. He shed light on the main points of this project, emphasising its positive impact on both residents and the environment. Let’s delve into the key takeaways from his insightful talk:

  1. Environmental Sustainability: Alev highlighted the urgent need to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Energy-efficient renovations play a pivotal role in this endeavor by significantly reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Open Lab project in Tartu is actively engaging apartment owners to embrace sustainable practices, fostering a greener future for the city.
  2. Awareness and Education: Raising awareness is a fundamental aspect of oPEN Lab. Kaspar Alev underligned the importance of educating residents about the benefits of energy-efficient renovations. By offering informative sessions, workshops, and guidance, the project equips homeowners with knowledge about sustainable building materials, energy-efficient technologies, and available funding options. Empowered with this information, residents can make informed decisions to reduce their environmental footprint.
  3. Financial Support and Incentives: Undertaking energy-efficient renovations can be financially demanding for many homeowners. Recognising this challenge, the oPEN Lab project provides crucial financial support and incentives. Alev emphasised that the project helps residents access grants, funding, and financial advice to make energy-efficient renovations more affordable. By reducing the financial barrier, the project aims to encourage broader participation and uptake of sustainable renovation practices.
  4. Collaborative Approach: oPEN Lab adopts a collaborative approach, actively involving apartment owners and communities. Kaspar Alev addressed the significance of engaging residents in the decision-making process, as their buy-in is crucial for the success of the initiative. The project works closely with homeowners, offering technical expertise, personalised guidance, and a support network, fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility towards sustainability.
  5. Transforming Communities: The impact of energy-efficient renovations goes beyond environmental benefits. Alev highlighted the transformative effect these renovations have on communities. By upgrading buildings with energy-efficient technologies, residents enjoy improved indoor comfort, reduced energy bills, and enhanced property values. Moreover, these renovations contribute to the revitalization of neighborhoods, creating attractive and sustainable living environments for residents to thrive.

Smart Cities Marketplace

Georg Houben, Policy Offer, European Commission set the scene for this engaging webinar focusing on citizen engagement and the role that EU projects and initiatives such as the Smart Cities Marketplace, oPEN Lab, Atelier, support service for citizen lead renovation and the affordable housing initiative play.

Tatiana Pasquel Garcia, co-coordinator of the Smart Cities Marketplace, VITO, highlighted key points about the Smart Cities Marketplace as a dynamic platform that brings together a network of experts and investors to support project proposals for cities. With a strong emphasis on collaboration, the initiative engages with various stakeholders to raise awareness and inspire action by sharing information on available solutions. The Marketplace provides crucial support and assistance to on-the-ground projects and action plans, creating opportunities and fostering relationships for financing. By collaborating with other European-level initiatives, the Marketplace promotes a comprehensive approach to city development. It focuses on three key areas: buildings and energy, mobility, and digital solutions. The Marketplace offers a user-friendly website that serves as a valuable resource, featuring project information, policy papers, solution books, and more. Additionally, it organises matchmaking events to connect investors with project representatives and extends consultancy services and financial master classes. Overall, the Smart Cities Marketplace is a driving force in advancing sustainable urban development.

Affordable Housing Initiative

The European Commission’s Affordable Housing Initiative took center stage as Martin Willemart, Policy Officer, DG Grow, European Commission, outlined its key points during a recent event. Designed to combat energy poverty, address the housing crisis, and promote building renovation, the initiative aims to make significant strides in doubling renovation rates and generating green jobs. With a strong focus on social and affordable housing at the district level, the initiative advocates an integrated approach that encompasses not only energy efficiency but also social innovation and community engagement. The overarching goal is to develop projects with replication potential, backed by the European Affordable Housing Consortium and the Rising Europe program. Lighthouse districts are being supported by the consortium to create replicable blueprints, while Rising Europe projects concentrate on digitalization, energy communities, and energy-efficient renovation. The European Social Innovation competition provides further assistance to drive social innovators in the housing sector.

Citizen-Led Renovation Initiative

Leen Peeters, coordinator of support service for citizen-led renovation projects initiative, Th!nk E, captivated audiences with an address about the power of citizen-led renovation initiatives as the catalyst for sustainable building transformation. Drawing attention to the pressing need for increased renovation rates in residential buildings, the Peeters emphasised the pivotal role of energy communities in driving change. She stressed the importance of building trust and forging strong relationships with citizens, highlighting the significance of understanding cultural nuances across different countries. Shedding light on the ground breaking citizen-led renovation project, Peeters discussed the implementation of pilot programs that harness automated administrative structures, innovative financing options, and robust citizen engagement strategies. She also unveiled the transformative potential of positive energy districts, propelling the drive to elevate renovation rates in private buildings. Encouraging participation in advisory boards, she underscored the vital policy implications and the imperative of collaboration with one-stop shops. Ultimately, Leen Peeters concluded by urging the sharing of experiences and knowledge to achieve a far-reaching impact, while championing the indispensable role of energy communities in realizing the goals of renovation and elevated energy performance.

Thomas van Dijk from the Atelier team emphasized the significance of citizen and stakeholder engagement in the realm of home energy management. His presentation shed light on the three pillars crucial to effective engagement: openness, transparency, and inclusivity. Under the first pillar of openness, van Dijk stressed the importance of open standards and interoperability. He urged the adoption of open standards to ensure the seamless integration of diverse home energy management systems. By embracing open standards, collaboration and innovation in the field can flourish, benefitting both consumers and industry stakeholders. Transparency emerged as the second pillar, with van Dijk advocating for the use and promotion of open-source technology. Through open-source solutions, greater transparency and accountability can be achieved in home energy management practices. By providing consumers with access to the inner workings of energy management systems, open-source technology empowers individuals to take control of their energy consumption. The third pillar highlighted by van Dijk was inclusivity. He stressed the need to strengthen energy communities by implementing open-source technology supported by open standards. By prioritizing energy communities, engagement and participation can be enhanced, ultimately leading to more sustainable energy practices. The democratization of energy management tools and knowledge through open-source technology ensures equal access and benefits for all. Van Dijk’s presentation emphasized the potential of citizen and stakeholder engagement in home energy management. By promoting openness, transparency, and inclusivity, he urged attendees to embrace these pillars as a means to create a more sustainable and empowered future.

Find the recording on the Smart Cities Marketplace YouTube channel.