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Cost-efficient, environmentally friendly social housing investment

An EU-funded initiative has proven that a warm, comfortable home with low energy bills is not a contradiction; it is possible, with the right form of sustainable investment.

Climate Change and Environment

Improving energy efficiency in social housing can generate economic, social and environmental benefits. Better-performing buildings can help mitigate climate change, reduce energy bills for low-income families and help improve their health by reducing illnesses caused by moisture and poor indoor climate. Despite the need to reduce energy consumption in the social housing sector, there are several barriers affecting the take-up of a large retrofit investment programme. These include lack of technical expertise, barriers to demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency projects to local authorities and landlords, limited capacity of public authorities to finance the investment, lack of legal expertise, excessive bureaucracy, and failure to properly explain the benefits of energy saving to tenants. The EU-funded LEMON project addressed these challenges by providing technical, organisational and financial assistance to public and private entities preparing tenders for energy retrofitting. The relevant social housing units are in the provinces of Reggio Emilia and Parma, in north-east Italy.

Investment speeded up

Project partners attempted to overcome all barriers and unlock investment in the social housing sector, focusing on the financial aspects faced by social housing companies. “The LEMON investment programme was based on a positive cash flow, a financial mechanism adapted to long-term and large-scale retrofit investment, a financing instrument to support the investment programme and the final aim that energy efficiency should not be an additional cost for low income families living in the social housing,” says project coordinator Claudia Carani. The initiative aimed to provide technical assistance to accelerate investment in the energy retrofitting of social housing units. “It integrated different form of funding available, including regional and national loans and incentives, and applied legal contracts to govern relations between local authorities, the buildings’ owners, tenants, ACER ( two social housing companies), ESCOs (energy service companies) and financing institutions to ensure a return on investment within 15 years from the retrofitting,” Carani explains.

Major savings

Retrofitting increased energy-saving opportunities, improved housing space quality and created value for all actors involved in the energy refurbishment of social housing buildings. These included residents, technicians who managed and maintained the buildings' high performance, innovators and investors in the construction sector. In total, 626 dwellings have been included in the LEMON programme: of these, 149 are in Parma Province and 477 in Reggio Emilia Province. “The investment programme of nearly EUR 9.5 million will reduce energy consumption by 4.039 MWh per year and prevent 794 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Although LEMON focused on social housing located in the north-east, we hope to replicate the programme in other regions of Italy,” Carani concludes. The LEMON Dwelling Energy Management Manual is available in Italian and English. Other training materials were also developed to support capacity-building activities. Media dissemination and partner participation at national and EU events and initiatives ensured the project was successfully publicised.


LEMON, energy, social housing, investment, building, retrofit

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