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How Turkey is decarbonising its largest energy-consuming industry: the building sector

Energy efficiency is critical to Turkey’s ability to both maintain its economic growth and meet its commitments on climate change and environmental sustainability. As the World Bank recalled, in 2015, the country submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, committing to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 21 per cent by 2030 focusing on energy-efficiency improvements.

In particular, Turkey’s building sector’s energy demand is growing rapidly, at a rate of 4.4 per cent on average, effectively rendering it the one sector with the largest energy consumption among all end-use sectors. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest review, Turkey’s residential sector consumed 20.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe), accounting for 21 per cent of the total final consumption (TFC) in 2018. At the same time, energy consumption in the commercial and public services sector was 12.5 Mtoe (12 per cent of TFC). In particular, electricity was the largest energy source in 2018, with 52 per cent of total energy demand in the sector; the remainder was fossil fuels: coal (16 per cent), natural gas (26 per cent) and oil (6 per cent).

And these numbers are destined to grow. Turkstat data indicate that as of October 2019, there were 9.5 million buildings in Turkey, of which approximately 90 per cent were residential. The number of housing units was around 24 million and more than 100,000 new buildings are added every year to the building stock.

For the past decade, the government has implemented several policies to maximise energy efficiency in the building sector. For example, in 2011, an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) was introduced to provide information on primary energy demand and CO2 emissions from new buildings and at the end of 2019, nearly 1 million buildings had an EPC. Or, for public buildings, a 2019 presidential circular issued a target for public buildings with energy managers assigned according to the Energy Efficiency Law to save 15 per cent energy until 2023.

More recently, the World Bank is supporting a 200 million US dollars Energy Efficiency in Public Buildings project (KABEV), implemented by Turkey’s Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation (MoEU) with the support of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MENR). The project aims to reduce energy use in central government buildings and to help develop a national program for energy efficiency in public buildings across the board.

“The project began in 2019 but became effective in 2021 and it will continue for 6 years,” explained Esra Turan Tombak, Head of the KABEV project at the MoEU, during a panel discussion at the ZeroBuild Forum, which takes virtually place on 22-26 September.

“There will be around 500-700 public buildings that we will target,” she continued. “There are two main components of the project: on one hand, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy and, on the other hand, boosting the building’s capacity. Overall, we aim to reduce our energy consumption, saving energy and decreasing CO2 emissions.”

turkey buildings
ZeroBuild Forum, panel discussion

In particular, the project includes investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy in central government buildings; piloting the use of energy service companies (ESCOs) to support public building renovations; and promoting renovations in public spaces to produce near-zero energy buildings (or NZEBs).

On March 18, 2021, the MoEU’s General Directorate of Construction Affairs signed Turkey’s first-ever competitively tendered performance-based ESCO contract in the public sector for energy-efficiency renovations in the Bursa Anatolian Girls High School. Energy-efficiency renovations are expected to result in energy savings of 72 per cent annually and renewable energy investments, which offer a payback period of about 12 years, in savings of 28 per cent of current energy consumption. The main investment measures include building insulation; upgrades to the windows and boilers and insulation of boiler room equipment; installation of thermostatic valves; automation of heating and lighting systems; upgrade of the lighting to light-emitting diodes (LEDs); installation of solar collectors for hot water and electricity; and installation of an energy monitoring system.

However, as the IEA noted, public awareness for energy efficiency is relatively low in Turkey and the economic situation of most households makes it challenging to motivate energy efficiency changes. The government seems to be aware of the challenges as also recognised by Mrs Turan Tombak.

“We aim to raise awareness about energy efficiency,” she said. “The KABEV project will not only save energy but also improve the working conditions and comforts at workplaces and it will be useful for the citizens and other stakeholders.”

Nevertheless, not all public buildings are eligible for the project. Mrs Turan Tombak underlined that, although the lack of a proper database is sometimes a challenge, a list of eligibility criteria have been defined by the government. For example, as Turkey is a country severely affected by earthquakes, for buildings built before 2000 it is mandatory to show a performance report.

“Then we look at the function of the building, its energy consumption, the size and so on,” the head of the KABEV project explained.

Getting the financing for these kinds of projects is not always easy and many institutions must get on board. But the results are already visible. Other than the World Bank or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), four Turkish cities (Sakarya, Gaziantep, Bursa, İzmir) have joined the EU-funded BUILD UPON2 project, launched by the World Green Building Council. Together with other participant cities, they will develop and implement a framework that allows them to track and measure a wide range of benefits of building renovation, from energy efficiency to tackling energy poverty and creating jobs.

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