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PRESS RELEASE BY THE MINISTRY FOR TRANSPORT, INFRASTRUCTURE AND CAPITAL PROJECTS Financing Energy Efficiency in Malta – speech by Minister Ian Borg
Today, we will be discussing an important topic which puts into perspective the different approaches that each country, including ours, can take or is already taking with respect to energy efficiency in an effort to allow us to contribute more towards this element.
I have had the privilege to experience two aspects of energy efficiency, first in my previous role as Parliamentary Secretary for Malta’s EU Presidency and EU Funds and now in my role as Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects.
Under the Maltese Presidency, energy efficiency was given a priority on the agenda. Member States have signed two agreements targeting directives on energy efficiency and the energy performance of buildings.
In my role as Minister for Infrastructure, I cannot help but notice that there is room for more synergy between the finance sector and the construction sector to improve the quality of our building stock.
Energy Performance of Maltese Buildings
Maltese buildings can boast that they demonstrate a comparatively low energy consumption – the lowest in the European Union and close to half of the EU average.
The energy demand in our buildings mostly originates from plug-in loads and appliances. We hardly heat our buildings and air conditioning is only used for only a few months a year. However, this is not attributable to the good quality of our buildings, but it is solely due to our advantageous geographical location.
Having said that, it does not mean that Malta’s building stock is not abound of improvement opportunities. On the contrary, the energy performance of our buildings still leaves much to be desired.
For the past years, we have made a lot of disjointed efforts to improve our buildings. We have taken a number of piecemeal and mostly disjointed initiatives to tempt the general public to improve the energy performance of buildings.
We have used EU funds to provide grants for photovoltaic systems, solar water heaters, roof insulation, double glazing and installation of heat pumps among others. Yet, we must admit that initiatives were mostly intermittent and recurring every now and then.
Schemes were almost exclusively driven by public funds, even though we are fully aware that these would not suffice unless complemented by significant private investments.
We are fully aware that government interventions in providing aids for improving energy efficiency in buildings cannot be the sole contributor if we want to achieve the full potential in this sector.
I gladly notice that developers are now discussing the matter seriously. Some banks are also offering advantageous rates for investments in this particular sector. The general public is also learning to appreciate the value in investing part of their capital in energy efficiency.
We have yet to foster a culture wherein energy efficiency becomes a feature by design. We need to focus more on the quality of our buildings and not just the quantity. This goes beyond the installation of low energy lighting, PV panels and energy efficient appliances. Future dwellings need to have in-built characteristics such as low heat-transfer building envelopes and maximum use of natural lighting.
Our building designers need to start looking at the lifetime costs of buildings. This would inevitably increase the occupants’ quality of life by making their buildings cheaper to run and more comfortable to live in.
Architects and engineers need to make more use of energy efficient products and include materials and systems that make the building consume less energy. Newly constructed buildings offer the most feasible opportunities as it is cheaper to design and construct an energy efficient building than to retrofit existing structures.
Older buildings are more challenging. Yet, they cannot be ignored. Government has managed to retrofit a number of public buildings to serve as a showcase of best-practice opportunities for improvement. Interventions on public schools and homes for the elderly have shown that it is in fact possible to achieve nearly zero energy buildings.
It is now the private sector’s turn to act. Paradoxically, recent reductions in local energy prices have disincentivised investment in the area of energy efficiency since payback periods of improvements have become somewhat longer. However, this should present itself as an opportunity for families and businesses to make further savings in their energy expenses.
However, I cannot overstress the importance of not being short-sighted in this aspect. Fortunately (or not), buildings often outlive their designers. Therefore, any enhancements will be long-lived, and returns will continue to be made for many years. This is what makes investments worthwhile.
A New Authority for Construction and Buildings
This government has started the process of establishing a new Authority for Buildings and the Construction Industry, an endeavour which aims to consolidate any disjointed efforts and work within this industry. Not only will this Authority monitor the construction stage of any building; it will also regulate it throughout its lifetime also with regard to important aspects such as life safety and fire prevention. Such regulation brings further peace of mind to investors and users, with the knowledge that the buildings they have invested in and those they occupy are structurally sound and fit for purpose.
This also applies for energy efficiency. We may need to develop indigenous systems and methods suitable for our climate and cityscapes, employing the latest techniques while respecting the legacy of our building heritage.
It shall foster and encourage a transition towards more energy efficient buildings making them the natural way to construct a new structure.
We are committed and determined to ensure that this new Authority provides a smooth transition from our present situation into a more sustainable and efficient one, without disrupting the market or the industry, while at the same time prioritising sustainability and efficiency.
I am confident that today’s event will support the discussion on the financing of energy performance improvements. I am also optimistic that this forum can discuss policies and challenge their effectiveness, debate experiences and identify innovative funding methods.
Government is both determined and committed to continue driving forward improvements in energy performance. It is our duty and our privilege to be in a position to work for future generations and to ensure that they can experience a better planet which lives and operates in the most sustainable way.
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