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Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2021-12-31

Problem/issue addressed: Taking energy audits and implementing the results is an effective way for SMEs to become more energy efficient and contribute to meeting the Paris Agreement. The challenge, however, is to make SMEs do so. Currently, SMEs are approached by auditors and other energy service suppliers, this has insufficient effect. For individual SMEs, it takes too much effort to find trusted suppliers of energy services and to gain access to finance. Their motivation is often low since they lack full awareness of their energy saving potential as well as the multiple benefits of energy efficiency measures. It is important to bridge the gap between the demand and supply side to boost the uptake of energy efficiency measures. GEAR@SME addresses three key respects: Firstly, it introduces the role of a Trusted Partner as a key player to bridge the gap between SMEs and the supply side. Secondly, it develops a local collective approach to energy efficiency in SMEs, based on geographic proximity (e.g. a business park). Thirdly, it puts to practice a Multiple Benefits approach to energy efficiency in SMEs. These three ingredients are at the heart of a common methodology, adaptable to local situation across the European member states, which we will demonstrate in four use cases. The large-scale roll-out of the GEAR@SME methodology will be supported by an online portal containing documentation; training materials, stand-alone tools, and an interactive portal to support development of a community of practice for Trusted Partners.

Importance for society: SMEs are the backbone of our economy. On their own, SMEs do not consume huge amounts of energy. But collectively, their energy demand is a different story. Significant opportunities exist to implement energy efficiency measures with a potential for substantial energy savings. No matter its size, every SME can play a part in national and global efforts to reduce carbon emissions through better energy consumption practices. A transition towards higher adoption rates of energy efficiency measures is a very important first step, as SMEs broaden their knowledge and understanding of adopting greener business practices. There are multiple benefits to be achieved, increasing energy efficiency not only enhances the image of the company, but also reduces cost and boosts their profitability.

Overall objective: start a community of practice for local Trusted Partners, who will implement a common methodology for capacity building in energy efficiency for SMEs, adopting a locally adaptive, collective, multiple benefits approach.
The GEAR@SME consortium has developed a common methodology to activate and enable SME's to take energy efficiency measures, and has put this methodology into practice in four use cases (DE, IT, NL, RO).

To develop this methodology, the consortium compiled an overview of drivers, barriers and gaps regarding capacity building, to close the demand-supply gap between SME's and Energy Service Suppliers. Also, an overview of already available capacity building tools, trainings, education, support channels and national/use case-specific policy and financial support available to SMEs was made. To ensure a generic use case approach that guarantees interrelation between the use cases, a common work plan has been developed for each use case. Workshops have been organized, energy scans have been performed, and trainings have been given, to activate and enable Trusted Partners and SME's in the four use cases.

Work has been performed on the development of the Online Portal and Community of Practice. Here, all the information of the GEAR@SME methodology Handbook will be available an accessible and a clear way. In addition, best practices for energy efficiency measures at SMEs are gathered and will be made available to SMEs in a concise and informative way. All content of the H2020-IMPAWATT database platform (in 5 languages) will be free to use on the Online Portal, as well as country-specific training activities developed during the GEAR@SME project: ten training units, divided over three modules, have been developed, containing all topics deemed most relevant to Trusted Partners, according to the experience of the use cases so far. The modules are: Multiple Benefits, Saving Energy Together and Collective Energy projects. All training material is made with the purpose to fill the information gap on the demand and supply side with the objective to provide Trusted Partners with appropriate skills and knowledge to perform their task efficiently. In addition to training material, tools are gathered/developed to support the activation of SMEs into taking energy efficiency measures. The project partners have developed a toolset consisting of 4 existing, 1 adapted and 2 new tools. In addition to existing tools (selected per use case country) for assessment of energy consumption and identification of energy actions, one existing “energy action” tool has been adapted to be more general. Two new tools have also been developed: One for assessment and presentation of business cases of energy efficiency measures including their multiple benefits and one for monitoring of energy use based on calculation and visualization of energy-related KPIs.
GEAR@SME has developed a common methodology and introduced the use case countries to the effectiveness of a local collective approach to reach energy efficiency. The process of activating the TP and SMEs in the 4 GEAR@SME use cases has been more challenging than expected, but we do see a strong interest in the GEAR@SME concepts with other business areas and market stakeholders. In the next period, we will make use of all the knowledge, tools, trainings and the online portal that have been developed over the past period to ensure that the expected impacts on a project level are achieved within the project lifetime. Also, we are also putting extra effort in activities that target SMEs outside of the current use case areas. This accelerated scale up is reached through an increased effort in training activities for the different stakeholders in the GEAR@SME methodology, who can act as GEAR@SME ambassadors to SMEs in the use case countries. In addition, through exploiting synergies with sister projects, e.g. by adding a GEAR@SME component to workshops and training events that are organised by sister projects, and an increased effort in workshops and energy scans for SMEs in other business areas. The GEAR@SME efforts in the current use cases and the accelerated scale up are expected to trigger investments in energy efficiency measures during the project lifetime. In addition, increasing gas prices are expecting to positively influence investments in energy efficiency measures. Overall, we expect that the collective and multiple benefits aspects of the GEAR@SME methodology will increase the attractiveness of energy efficiency measures for SMEs.