In conversation with Charlotte van de Water

  • December 15, 2020

Agoria, the federation for technology companies in Belgium, offers organisations from various sectors solutions for, amongst others, regulations or digitization. With nearly 2000 members, Agoria is a significant link for the renovation sector. BE-REEL! therefore had a meeting with their expert on energy and climate policy for buildings, Charlotte van de Water

Charlotte van de WaterCharlotte van de Water, from the Netherlands, studied architecture at Delft University of Technology and subsequently human geography and planning at Utrecht University. Charlotte started as a policy support officer at the DCMR Rijnmond environmental service in Rotterdam. She then moved to Brussels to work at Arcadis as a consultant on European policy studies. Now she has been an expert in energy and climate policy for buildings since 2017. She likes to go on long train journeys, visiting numerous cities or visiting friends on the way.

What exactly does your job entail?

“I study everything that has to do with climate policy that has an impact on buildings. Helping policy makers to realize a climate-neutral building park, so to speak. This ranges from EPB and renovation to even Ecodesign (= product regulations for climate-neutral building technology) and standardisation. I am project manager of the climate-neutral construction project that aims to realize a climate-neutral building stock in Belgium. That means that I set out the steps for this and try to apply that strategy with colleagues. ”

AGORIA

What does AGORIA do?

“Our mission is to increase the quality of life. Actually, we are the engine that connects companies and organisations that have something to do with technology. Many of these are IT-oriented companies, but also the manufacturing industry - companies that make products that require technology such as solar shading and construction installations - and sectors such as transport, energy, and the environment.

Renovation can help to kickstart the rebuilding after COVID19

About 230 people work at Agoria. Simply put, you can say that in terms of service, some colleagues are involved with questions from members and the others with research and shaping the social debate. Actually, we are quite a horizontal and project-driven organisation. We set a goal such as realizing a climate-neutral building stock. We determine a strategy along with the required activities to reach that goal, see what we can figure out for ourselves, and what additional studies are needed. To do this, you work with colleagues from different backgrounds. In addition to services, you also have teams that work on advocacy, operational matters, communication and sales. Recently we also have our own study center. ”

Can you name some concrete Agoria projects so that we can get a rough idea of what they do?

“Because of digitization many jobs that can’t easily be filled in again could disappear. In the Be The Change project, we focus on the future of the labour market. The Factory of the Future project responds to the strengths of the manufacturing industry and DigiCoach to the further digitization of people and organisations. Perhaps also nice to mention: Agoria is the main sponsor of the Belgian team that won the Solar Challenge in Australia. I had nothing to do with it myself, but I thought it was quite funny that we were able to beat my Delft, which won it year after year (laughs). ”
 

How do you see the relationship with BE-REEL!?

“I had met one of your colleagues at a fair, who suggested that I should talk about a possible collaboration. I do see a win-win situation in that. The main advantage is to exchange knowledge about overarching renovation strategies and target groups. What BE-REEL! can mean for us is sharing experiences around the exemplary projects that are running in your partner cities. That shows some similarities with what we want to set up and we are very curious about it. ”

OPINION QUESTIONS

Imagine: as a policymaker you are allowed to change / draft 1 policy measure to help achieve your objectives. Which one do you choose and why do you choose it? (You can choose the policy level yourself)

“Firstly, I would increase the climate-neutral housing stock by intervening in social housing, although I must say that we are already on the right track there. A budget has been included in the recovery plan to achieve this. Next, I would provide people who want to renovate with the necessary funding and tools. You can do this by increasing the borrowing capacity and, as the government, taking part of the risk for this. As a new owner you get more options when you can take out a new loan. But if you are already in a house, your mortgage is of course calculated for this house and you have fewer borrowing options because this means a greater risk for banks. The government could guarantee this so that the loan time and possibly also the amount could be increased, so that people could renovate their home in one go instead of in several steps. That would be more favorable. ”

In a recent study by Agoria, there is a financial barrier to renovate, can you briefly explain that study?

“We asked Professor Johan Albrecht of Ghent University to create an economic model that includes both the technical characteristics of the building and the socio-economic characteristics of the owner. Our theory was that multiple target groups could be distinguished and that by taking into account the different characteristics per target group you can achieve a higher impact with the policy. He distinguished two target groups within the current owners: those with sufficient budget and those with insufficient. Those groups are about the same size. Our conclusion was actually that there are 3 key factors for a successful renovation strategy: first a target group-oriented approach, then responding to both climate neutrality and comfort, and finally rewarding the choice for climate neutral living.

Focusing on climate neutrality also increases comfort.

For us, that study was not a yes or no story, but rather a quest to tackle a problem in a different way. If you keep telling people without a budget to renovate without helping them, nothing is going to happen. You have to adjust the policy accordingly. If you correctly respond to the needs of a specific group with correct policy measures, the chance of renovation increases. "

How would you reward carbon neutral homes?

“You can provide a tax framework or provide extra financial premiums, but comfort can also be a reward. It's not always about money. If people get a certain benefit for themselves from that renovation, they are willing to make an investment. We also see that when owners renovate with sufficient budget, they often only do this for comfort, so we have to make it clear to them that focusing on climate neutrality also increases comfort. ”

About which hypothesis / theme on energetic renovation would you like to see a study or concrete action and why?

“I think that the private and social rental market will play a major role in initiating the transition. You have to ensure that the rental market offers an alternative to living in a climate-neutral way. That is why I would find it useful to know the required number of climate-neutral social and private rental homes in the future. ”

Energetic renovation is of course part of the larger climate story of fewer CO2 emissions. Other sectors are also involved in this. Which ones should we not lose sight of?

“Mobility and energy are two sectors that come to mind spontaneously. The energy sector is very important for buildings, because they lay the framework for the available energy for heating and cooling. This indirectly indicates to what extent we should use less energy, but above all it indicates that we should use it more efficiently. If that sector lags behind or creates an uncertain picture, I think we will have to make more difficult policy choices within the buildings sector. There are some measures from other sectors that can contribute to climate neutrality. Technological innovation is one, which is actually done continuously by our members. A tax shift from fossil to renewable energy could also help a lot. In other words, reward users of renewable energy. "

How do you see the future of the Belgian renovation sector? Where do you think we will be in 5 years?

“Of course we are now in an unprecedented situation with COVID19, but I think renovation here can help to kick-start the rebuilding. It has several advantages: you reduce your CO2 emissions and achieve your social objective, you give the construction sector an impulse to restart, you increase quality of life and comfort, which has become very important with working from home and it increases the long-term value of the building stock. At the moment it is very beneficial to invest in renovation.
I do see the recent future as favorable. I think that in 5 years' time we can improve15% of the homes to an A label and that we should extend this to 2030. Ensure that the supply continues to grow and that climate-neutral living becomes commonplace in society. ”

Thank you for this conversation!

Please find more information about AGORIA on their website.

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