Energy efficiency (un)contested: determinants of urban and building RETROFIT

The current energy-efficiency agenda is a ‘no-regret option’ for Europe, addressed by both short-term and long-term EU policies. It is also one of the three Horizon 2020 Energy Challenges, alongside Competitive Low-Carbon Energy and Smart Cities and Communities. At the same time, our built environment is responsible for 40% of EU’s final energy demand and by making it more energy-efficient 17% of EU’s primary energy saving potential by 2050 can be met. Thus, it is widely acknowledged that the built environment is an important area to tackle via energy-efficiency upgrading or retrofit and by doing so, at least four types of benefits can be achieved: economic (such as reduced energy growth, further economic growth and higher property values), social (such as reduced fuel poverty and better health), environmental (such as carbon savings and reduced air pollution) and energy system benefits (including greater energy security and fewer new plants being built).

Current European urban and building retrofit trends, however, are not encouraging. It is argued by both academics, on the one hand, and politicians and policy makers, on the other hand, that a greater effort should be made at the European level, if we were to meet the 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 target; for example, a 2-3% yearly retrofit rate is desired, in contrast to only 1.2% which is currently achieved. As such, a number of determinants have been put forward in the literature in order to better understand the slow take-up of building retrofit. These include economic (i.e. access to finance, payback time, opportunity costs, asymmetry of information, pricing distortions), technological (i.e. product availability, installation and use), social (i.e. behaviour, awareness and information, custom and habit) and institutional (i.e. regulatory and planning issues, structural, multiple stakeholders).

While our understanding of the first two types of ‘determinants’ (economic and technological) is relatively developed, we know less about how social and institutional determinants work and/or influence the energy-efficiency in buildings and retrofit agendas in Europe. This Working Group (WG) aims to advance this latter understanding.We welcome papers focusing on ‘determinants’ of urban and building retrofit, with a specific focus on social and institutional determinants; drawing on both theoretical and applied research; and coming from long-established environmental and social sciences theory, but also from more recently discussed models and theories such as socio-technical studies, transitions literature, behavioural economics, practice theory etc. Based on the papers from this WG we aim to edit a journal special edition in 2016.


Catalina Turcu, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

Ylva Noren Brezner, School of Public Administration, Goteborg University


List of participants