How Upper Austria is tackling heating emissions through awareness raising and capacity building: new Energy Transition Platform case study

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22 February 2017

LONDON: The Climate Group has published a new case study assessing how the state of Upper Austria is implementing innovative policy packages to transform the heating sector and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions.

The new case study is part of The Climate Group’s Energy Transition Platform, a global initiative supporting highly industrialized, sub-national governments in accelerating the low carbon transition, and looks at how Upper Austria is activating both the demand and supply sides, through information and capacity building measures, to reduce emissions from heating.

In Europe, the heating sector is the biggest consumer of final energy (50%), of which 75% are sourced from fossil fuels. Reducing emissions from heating can be achieved through a combination of energy efficiency measures and a switch to renewable energy based heating systems.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) considers heating, as well as transport, to be one of the two ‘next frontiers for renewables’. According to the IEA, these two sectors have the largest untapped potential in terms of renewable energy uptake by 2040. Yet the recent REN21 report found that the expansion of renewable in the heating sector was slower than in the power sector, partly due to a lack of adequate supporting policy.

To address the heating challenge, the Upper Austrian Energy Agency has adopted an innovative approach based on a ‘sticks, carrots and tambourines’ policy package. This package brings together financial incentives (e.g. grant programs for retrofitting), regulatory measures (e.g. dynamic standards for building efficiency) and a third, often neglected pillar: information, awareness raising and capacity building programs.

The case study analyzes Upper Austria’s main ‘tambourines’ programs which are aimed at accelerating the transformation of the heating market across the demand side and the whole supply chain:

  • The Energy Advice program supports consumers’ investment decisions related to renovation, new construction and renewable heating systems;
  • The Energy Academy provides training for businesses (manufacturers, installers, architects and banks) on topics such as energy management, solar energy storage and biomass heating;
  • The Professionals of Tomorrow program targets student from the higher education system and offers company tours, site visits and thesis’ placements.

The innovation of Upper Austria’s approach lies in the understanding that the ‘tambourines’ pillar is crucial in making traditional incentives and regulations successful. By engaging both the supply and demand sides, this pillar addresses the key challenges of a lack of awareness of customers and a lack of expertise of suppliers.

With more than 10,000 face-to-face Energy Advice sessions and 30 Energy Academy training sessions per year, the ‘tambourines’ programs are a well-established success with tangible environmental benefits: between 2003 and 2014, emissions from buildings were reduced by 42%.

The government of Upper Austria is also conscious of the economic advantages of transforming the heating market. Not only does it alleviate fuel poverty (which still affects 11% of all EU citizens), but it also creates jobs: in Austria, a country of less than 9 million inhabitants, 20,000 jobs come from the bioenergy industry.

Christiane Egger, Deputy Manager, Upper Austrian Energy Agency, said: “Upper Austria is progressing well with the transformation of the heating market - 60% of the space heat is provided by renewable energy sources and district heating. This success is due to a comprehensive policy package. We were happy to share our experience with the partner governments from the Energy Transition Platform - together, we can make progress to the benefit of our citizens, our industry and the environment.”

Beyond Upper Austria’s success in tackling emissions from the built environment, the region is also a prime example that GDP and energy consumption growth do not go hand in hand: since 2005, Upper Austria’s GDP has increased by 32%, while its final energy consumption has decreased slightly by 2%. The Upper Austrian case is yet another example of the decoupling of regional-level emissions and economic growth, echoing a recent report which showed that between 2000 and 2014, 33 of the 50 US states managed to reduce their emissions while increasing their GDP.

Download the Upper Austria case study here and find all the Energy Transition Platform’s case studies here.

The Energy Transition Platform was launched by The Climate Group, with the initiative’s lead government, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Stiftung Mercator, in early 2016. The Platform connects highly-industrialized, carbon-intensive state and regional governments in developing and implementing clean energy policies.

by Juliette Baralon

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