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The Warsaw Voice » Real Estate » January 16, 2008
INVESTORS' OBSTACLE COURSE - 16-17 January, 2008
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The Sixth Fuel
January 16, 2008   
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Energy efficiency has become the largest energy source-bigger than oil, and much bigger than wind, solar, hydroelectric power and biofuels combined. Additional energy efficiency obtained through better insulation of buildings is a cheap and freely available "sixth fuel."

A modern solution for today's energy problems is to increase the energy efficiency of buildings and thus reduce their energy costs. Instead of consuming more energy, we can fully meet the demand for warmth and a comfortable environment by using even less energy than at present. We do not need to burn more gas, coal or oil, which causes pollution. Neither do we need to turn to nuclear energy sources, which can be dangerous, nor to renewable energy sources, which can be costly. It is enough to sensibly save on energy costs by improving the energy efficiency of buildings. In the long term, the costs of improving a building's energy efficiency, including good heat insulation, are likely to be returned many times over. The utilization of this "sixth fuel" is clean, possible and profitable.

During the "Sixth Fuel" campaign, initiated by Rockwool Polska, polling agency TNS OBOP researched Poles' opinion on energy saving. The results showed that people are not aware of the scope of energy consumption in the buildings that they use and thus do not fully take advantage of the opportunities that exist to save energy.

Buildings consume most energy
The poll showed that people in this country are not aware of how much energy is used in modern, everyday life. Poles use more energy to heat, light and air-condition the buildings that they live, work and spend their leisure time in and to run all their electronics than the country's industry or transport network.

This is not surprising since we spend over 80 percent of our time in buildings, which have become our basic habitat and in which we take for granted a comfortable environment with pleasant temperatures.

However, 71 percent of those polled said that they thought industry consumes the most energy, while just 18 percent mentioned buildings at all.

Over 40 percent of all energy consumed in Poland is done so in buildings. The most, or over 34 percent, is used in residential buildings. The remaining 6 or so percent is used in stores, hospitals, schools, offices, factories and the like.

Energy usage in the home
The basic household budget includes energy costs for electricity, gas, coal, hot water and central heating. Despite the proliferation of electrical appliances in the home, it is heating that consumes the most energy.

Only one in four Poles know that 70 percent of the energy consumed by households is used for heating.

But much energy is used to heat other buildings too. The budgets of doctors' surgeries, hospitals, schools and offices are hugely burdened by the costs of heating poorly insulated new buildings and not thermally insulated older buildings. This leaves less money for expenditure on the health service, education or residential services. For firms, unnecessarily high heating costs mean higher fixed costs and thus decreased competitiveness.

All this underscores the fact that energy conservation in buildings benefits everyone and this is why, by taking advantage of other countries' experience, it is worth taking steps to make buildings more energy efficient.

Compared with other European countries, Poland is rather a cold country. But it is not the climate but the energy efficiency of a building that determines how much energy is required to maintain desired temperatures inside. By utilizing suitably thick thermal insulation, Scandinavian countries have reduced energy waste in their buildings to a minimum. In this respect, Poland trails almost all the other European countries, regardless of their climate-be it cold, warm or temperate.

Walls and roofs that allow too much heat to escape unnecessarily are just the beginning of problems. The dire state of existing buildings in Poland and low building standards result in one of the highest heat-loss ratios for buildings in Europe. Poland cannot justify such high heat loss with its climatic conditions since Sweden's ratio in winter is several times lower. Polish homes could also be as energy saving. It would be enough to increase the thickness of their wall and roof insulation.

The cheapest and easiest method to guarantee energy efficiency in a building is at the design stage of a new home and during construction. It is thus wise to ensure high energy-efficiency standards in new buildings. The additional cost of this would be returned within a maximum of a few years, while savings on energy costs would continue. The investment boom in Poland since the country joined the European Union is likely to strengthen as the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer championships approach. Poland is hosting the event together with Ukraine. Over the next few years Poland will see many new buildings go up that will serve the public for a long time. Bearing this in mind, it is worth ensuring that these buildings are energy efficient to 21st-century standards and promote new Polish building standards. At the same time, all renovated or modernized old buildings should be just as energy efficient.

Maria Dreger
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