Becoming resilient to the crisis
Europe's energy crisis has put the continent at an unfair advantage.
On one hand, we have an unprecedented economic and energy crunch that has caused massive price increases in nearly every area of life. On the other hand, this situation has forced everyone - from political leaders to citizens - to shorten their green energy plans and transfer them from the 'near future' to 'now.'
"Up until last year, going green was mainly political talk. Public sector leaders gathered in big conference rooms to talk about critical environmental initiatives and energy saving, but almost nothing changed. The commercial and private sectors responded similarly to energy challenges: they were not interested in energy-efficient solutions.
However, the current crisis that marks 2022 started to change those opinions. Maybe for the first time, society realizes that going green is not just some activist talk. It's a necessity that generates real and visible savings in the long run."
- Ionut Cabuz, Unit Manager at Uponor Romania
Gaps, crossroads, and surging prices
It's difficult to say if Europe's energy strategy is currently at a crossroads or is stuck in a gap.
Where energy sources are concerned, we’ve left coal behind. We’re looking at the new road ahead, offering renewable alternatives and the reduction of fossil fuels (mainly gas). That's the crossroads where Europe needs to decide where to go next.
The problem is that green energy systems still need to be prepared to replace fossil fuels, and we rely heavily on gas. That's where the crossroads looks more like a gap between what's planned and what’s possible.
Gas became a hot topic, especially after the war in Ukraine and political pressures that resulted in scarce Russian imports (that account for 25% of the EU's energy needs). In addition, natural gas deposits are running dry in the North Sea. And even though solar and wind energy systems are progressing, we still have a long way to go.
While we have no clear or fast solutions, the market responded to the crisis and scarce resources with a dramatic increase in overall costs.
According to the World Economic Forum, European gas prices have increased by a factor of eight times over the past ten years, which consequently affected everything else.
|GAS||ELLECTRICITY||COST OF LIVING|
+600% (2021). >>
+ 230% (2021). >>
+ 7% (2022)
Izvor: International Monetary Fund
The dangers of short-term thinking
Energy crises and raging prices affect all walks of life, and the construction sector is no exception. The first natural response from investors is to try to balance expensive materials and lower demand from buyers, where most customers stay cautious and save money for better times.
For some investors and developers, that signals that they need to save on materials and equipment, so they will look for cheaper offerings for carpentry, floors, ceramics, heating and cooling, etc.
However, that approach is short-sighted because the initial investment is not where the total expense ends. Modern investors understand that the entire value chain and product cycle need to be considered when making calculations.
"It's becoming increasingly important to deploy products and solutions that have low operational costs, top service, low to no maintenance, and advanced recycling capabilities, or even bio-degradable materials at its core. All those expenses pile up much sooner than investors and end customers realize."
- Ionut Cabuz, Unit Manager at Uponor Romania
In other words, cheap equipment that needs constant maintenance, replacements, and fixes, and that is difficult to service and recycle, can backfire and become very expensive in the aftermath.
Building owners lose money, and investors who sell these units put their reputations and future opportunities on the line.
Turning challenges into opportunities via innovation
So, if going cheaper is not the solution, then what is? Unfortunately, higher prices will be around for a while. Some experts anticipate that the crisis may persist for a few winters, not just this one.
To get closer to the solution, we need to flip the script and try to see the bigger picture. Things can instantly look brighter if we turn the current challenge into an opportunity.
"I'm not trying to minimize the seriousness of the situation, but we need to change the negative narrative and start talking about more positive things. We've had many crises in the past, and we have always survived. We also learned from all those situations that we can find our way out if we find different solutions based on innovation.
Albert Einstein famously said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." The same applies to today's situation. Cutting costs won't resolve the problem. But innovative approaches have a better chance of finding that solution."
- Csaba Polz, Director at Uponor for Southeast Europe
Innovation is firmly embedded in many sustainable products in the construction sector. And these solutions are no longer a 'nice to have;' they are becoming the primary tools that help us combat current and future challenges in the energy sector. Their prices may be slightly higher at the start, but when you factor in the full product cycle value, it becomes evident that they pay off quickly.
Just as every cloud has a silver lining, Europe can use this time of crisis to turbo-charge its energy transition and improve its long-term position. Moreover, this situation can help us realize our planned green, sustainable future much faster.
So, let's start changing that perspective.
Greener building saves energy by up to 50%
When done from the outset, using sustainable materials can cut energy costs by half.
The World Economic Forum shared research showing that, by 2030, energy savings could increase by 20-30% for new commercial buildings and 50% for new residential buildings – if their builders adopt appropriate efficiency tools.
Some examples of energy-efficient tools for buildings include:
Monitoring and control technologies (see Uponor Smatrix: Room Temperature Control System)
Industrial energy management systems
However, the best results for building truly energy-saving buildings come when energy efficiency aspect is implemented in the design.
"The model which forward-thinking investors typically look for is solutions with an added value. Buildings are not built for a few years. The combination of comfort, design and green technologies is the best warranty that they will be functional and energy-efficient for decades. We are talking about sustainability, of course, but also about the quality that can last for dozens of years."
- Peter Hromanda, Unit Manager at Uponor Slovakia and the Czech Republic
Including energy-efficient solutions in the blueprint phase
Here are six ways to include energy efficiency in a building's architectural and design plans:
Did you know you can use your walls and ceilings for more efficient heating and cooling? The Thermally Activated Building System (TABS) combines heating and cooling systems. Its pipes stay hidden in the structural concrete walls, using its mass volume as a buffer. TABS can be integrated into renewable energy sources, ensuring significant energy and cost savings.
Check out Uponor TABS Contec, which uses the concrete mass of the building structure to store and exchange thermal energy with the neighbouring areas of the building.
An efficient, built-in shading system can save tons of energy for cooling rooms during the hot summer. Only three degrees lower means hundreds of euros less on utility bills for hotels, offices, and residential buildings.
Geothermal heat pump
Heat pumps that use geothermal energy are gaining a lot of traction lately as the most optimal energy source. The geothermal heat pump takes advantage of heat stored in the earth or groundwater and transfers that energy into a building during the winter and back into the ground during the summer.
You've probably heard that underfloor heating saves energy but have yet to learn how. Here's a little breakdown for you.
The power of the heat source depends on the degrees to which you need to heat the coolant in the heating system. For traditional radiators, that temperature needs to be between 65 and 80 degrees Celsius.
However, underfloor heating uses only 35 to 50 degrees Celsius. As a result, the heat loss in the room is automatically reduced, saving up to 12% of energy and increasing the heating system efficiency by 80%.
Uponor offers an entire system of products combining solutions for underfloor heating and cooling.
No noise, unpleasant air flows, or maintenance. Plus, it saves energy by up to 20%. Of course, we are talking about a radiant heating and cooling ceiling system.
It operates, primarily, according to the radiation principle, working inaudibly and invisibly inside suspended ceilings. This advanced, water-based system is designed for extra comfort in buildings and homes.
Learn more here about Uponor’s radiant heating and cooling solutions.
6. Innovation and quality that lasts
Traditional HVAC equipment needs to be replaced every ten years. Plumbing pipes should last much longer, but with cheaper options, you typically have issues with leaks or blockages. Planning to instal quality products ensures you can set and forget these systems. They last for decades and have very low maintenance.
Uponor’s PEX Pipe, celebrating its 50th birthday this year, was an innovation in the 70s when it set a new industry standard.
Recently, Uponor launched the world´s first bio-based PEX pipe - Uponor PEX Pipe Blue. It offers the same quality, features and performance as conventional PEX pipes but with up to a 90%-reduced carbon footprint (compared to fossil-based materials). Blue is the right choice for customers looking to make more sustainable choices, providing complete value chain transparency through full ISCC certification (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification).
Save more to earn more
Not only does it save costs during energy crisis periods, like the one we are experiencing today. A solid energy-efficient plan that starts as early as the blueprint stage brings more profits for investors and future owners.
A new sustainable approach is necessary for modern builders and their potential buyers.
Start building a greener future today. We only have so much time left once climate change becomes irreversible
But it’s not only about profits. Let's remember that you're investing in a better future that is more sustainable and less dependent on expensive energy sources.