Starting at Home
Energy efficiency in St. Petersburg
Russia, like all other UN member countries, is preparing for the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Paris. Meanwhile, analysts and experts are trying to predict the Russian delegation’s grand game plan in the negotiations for the world’s next climate change agreement. How will it defend its carbon-heavy energy mix? Will the huge Siberian forests be used as a bargaining chip?
Back home in Russia, climate change is still not very high up on the agenda and an understanding for what needs to (and could be) done is only gradually developing among the population. But one needn’t look as far as the Siberian oil fields or forests to see that Russia could be doing more in the fight against climate change. A look at the average Russian’s home is quite enough.
As many as 74 per cent of Russians live in urban areas. In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city with a population of just under five million, that means that a majority of people live in huge apartment buildings, organized in so called micro regions, mostly from the Soviet era, but expanding to the city periphery to accommodate the ever-growing city population. Today there are around 23,000 multi-family apartment buildings in the city.
The city center itself mostly consists of turn of the (last) century buildings, whose condition was neglected in the Soviet era, now in desperate need for renovations. Deterioration of the building materials, leakages in the heating systems and overheating, as well as lack of proper isolation are among the main reasons why the residential houses are often energy “black holes”.
Thus, it is not surprising that the residential sector in Russia consumes 20 per cent of electricity and as much as 60 per cent of heating energy resources – making concerns about energy efficiency as timely as ever, but also hard to enforce.
“The population of St. Petersburg has a huge potential to save energy, as much as 45 per cent can be saved. But if the people are not motivated by supporting action from the government in this sphere, that goal can of course not be achieved,“ says Nikolai Pitirimov, Head of the local Association of Homeowners.
Olga Senova, head of the climate department of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union (NGO) agrees with him. She goes as far as claiming that neither oil nor gas, but energy efficiency is Russia’s “greatest energy resource” - it’s just not as highly subsidized by the state.
This needs to change in her opinion. A recommendation paper prepared at a gathering of ecological NGO representatives demands that “energy efficiency and renewable energy sources must become the priority of Russia’s low-carbon development, which requires an increase in governmental support of these areas.”
Lack of support for existing energy saving initiatives seems to be a key problem in this context, as the legal framework for energy efficiency already exists. “Implementation of the law is what is hard to achieve. Like with any other legislation in Russia, cultural and historical reasons make it hard to put them into practice,” argues Eduard Podgaiskiy, general director of the St. Petersburg-based NGO “Center for Transboundary Cooperation” and author of several publications on the state of energy efficiency in St. Petersburg.
The Federal Law No. 261 “On Energy Saving and Improving Energy Efficiency” defined the term “energy efficiency” at the legislative level as early as November 2009 and a number of supporting pieces of legislation further specified the details of such schemes. Podgaiskiy explains: “Generally it looks quite reasonable on paper but it often does not work in practice.”
The Federation of Finnish Technology Industries, who would potentially be very interested in investing in the St. Petersburg market, shares these doubts about the effectiveness of the law. Their 2014 report claims: “Energy Efficiency in Russia reaches today only intermediate goals - replacing of bulbs, installation of meters - as the real energy efficiency starts only when long term contracts with long term financing and structural changes take place. And the biggest challenge for Russia is tariff policy.”
Aside from the obvious better performance in the field of new housing projects, in the existing buildings some changes are being made on a large scale, as Eduard Podgaiskiy observes. According to his observations, metering devices are now widespread and obligatory. Weather-sensitive heating units are being installed by the most effective house management companies. Furthermore, examples exist of thermal insulation of old pre-manufactured block buildings, but these are not yet widespread.
The reasons for why renovations for the sake of saving energy are not popular and widespread are historical, structural and, in the end, also heavily dependent on the current economic climate.
Much of housing stock was state-owned in Soviet times, and even after privatization, the dwellers expect the state to take care of the building, including energy efficiency. Success stories like the house on Industrialniy Prospekt 11 (pictures above) were only able to do comprehensive renovations and implement energy saving goals because the whole building was in the hands of a small group of owners.
Access to cheap energy then, does not generate the necessary incentives to switch to energy efficient alternatives. But, higher tariffs on energy use are currently not being discussed at the political level.
For now, the costs to undertake renovations aimed at energy efficiency are still too high and loans are expensive. Eduard Podgaiskiy estimates that homeowners would have to invest as much as one fourth of the price of a new home for the most immediate measures. “It’s hard to imagine that homeowners would spend half a million Rubles when they are only going to live in that place for 20, maximum 30 years.
The city administration has committed to help with the energy efficient overhaul of ... apartment buildings in the context of the current planning period 2015-20.
Although such an initiative is surely to be welcomed, “the existing energy efficient solutions in housing sector of St Petersburg need to be better advertised through either energy passports of the buildings or interactive maps showing average annual heat demands of specific buildings, or savings achieved,” suggests Eduard Podgaiskiy in order to make the need for energy efficiency more visible.
Furthermore, chronic underfinancing of the market for energy efficient housing and renovations of existing structures is due to the current scheme of repayment for loans. Homeowners need more time to repay loans, to make it attractive to get them in the first place. “Systemic changes will only be possible with return on investment period shorter than 5-7 years. This is not the case for complex energy efficient refurbishment in Russia at the moment.”