Repowering Communities case study: Berlin council’s energy efficiency programmes

In 1992, Berlin set up its own Energy Agency. It is described as an ‘Energy Services Undertaking’ and is a partnership between the Land (federal state) of Berlin, the KfW and energy companies, including Vattenfall. In 1994, the council published Energy Concept Berlin, which set the city a target to reduce its CO2 emissions by 25% of 1990 levels by 2010. There was also a target to reduce CO2 emissions from buildings by one million tons over ten years through renovation. To reach this goal, the Berlin Senate passed the State Energy programme, which contained measures ranging from energy saving in housing and public buildings to energy services and solar energy. Berlin financed a modernisation programme for old buildings and flats. The city also promotes biomass district heating.

Berlin ImpulsE is the Berlin Senate’s programme of information on rational energy consumption and the use of renewable energy sources, which started in 1995. It aims to translate the language of energy experts into everyday language. The Berlin Energy Standard (B.E.S.T.) is an advice system, which aims to help landlords and tenants to choose “the most efficient and most valuable energy service”. It does cover renovation, but deals mainly with advice on energy supply.

dena’s Efficient Homes project

In 2003, the German Energy Agency (Deutsche Energie-Agentur or dena) began its Efficient Homes project. This aims to improve more than 2,000 homes, using low-interest loans and, since 2007, some grants. More than half of the properties are rented (as is the case for German homes generally). BASF and the National Association of the German Energy and Water Industry are partners. At least one pilot project is being implemented in each Land. As well as energy efficiency, some loans and grants are available for biomass heating.

In the first phase, beginning in 2003, 19 housing companies renovated around 880 apartments in 33 buildings, sometimes using passive house components, which had previously been used mainly in new developments. The first phase was multi-family homes (three quarters of German households are in multi-dwelling facilities). The second phase, from 2005 onwards, added single-family and two-family homes.

dena has set up a successful network of existing regional centres of expertise, with new partners joining the network constantly. There has been a “regional dialogue” series of events (30 events since 2005 with an average of 150 participants) and a website with a knowledge database, expert information on energy-efficient refurbishment and presentation of the refurbishment projects.

Federal government policies

At the end of 2007, the German government set up an Integrated Energy and Climate Programme with three goals for 2020:

  • Reduce greenhouse gases by 40%.
  • Increase renewable energy to 20% of primary energy consumption.
  • Reduce energy consumption by 20% (compared with the trend).

There is also a retrofit programme for public buildings, especially at the level of the federal states and the municipality level. This programme has a budget of €120 million a year for 2008 to 2012.

Where more than 20% of a property is renovated, building standards apply in Germany. Other than this, participation in energy efficiency programmes is voluntary.

Social housing

Modernisation of existing housing in Germany is focussed on social housing, including housing that meets the needs of disabled people. The 1981 Heating Costs Ordinance commits owners of buildings to charge tenants with energy costs depending on individual consumption. However, German housing benefit is payment of rent and heating costs. Recipients are required to choose low-cost dwellings, which means that low-income people often live in very inefficient homes, so are likely to have a high energy consumption and energy expenditures. Most low income people live in rented accommodation. Almost three million households – nearly 8% of all households in Germany – received benefits from the allowance program in 2007. 90% of recipients were tenants. Germany spends more than €12 billion annually on housing benefit. This is controversial as it:

“… essentially lowers the price for space heating to nil. Moreover, since only low-cost dwellings are covered by the program, it is very likely that the respective flats in turn exhibit a low energy efficiency.”

(See Grosche, P, 2009: Housing, energy cost, and the poor: Counteracting effects in Germany’s housing allowance program. Energy Policy 38.)


The KfW bank, owned jointly by the central government and the federal states, has offered low-interest loans for refurbishment since 1990 and, from 2001, loans have been available specifically for energy efficiency improvements. In 2006, the KfW programme on energy efficiency was almost tripled, to around €1 billion a year for the next four years (and subsequently increased to €1.5 billion). From 2007, direct grants were offered alongside the loans.

KfW’s CO2 Building Rehabilitation Programme is carried out by local banks and offers loans to owner-occupiers, landlords, housing companies, housing cooperatives and local government, for energy efficiency, CHP and renewables. Some Laender support the programme with reduced interest rates. In 2007, grants for owners of one and two-family houses were also made available. The Efficient Homes project is part of this programme.

There have been specific KfW loans and grants for non-profit organisations, local authorities and associations of local authorities since January 2007.


The overall results of the KfW programmes are impressive. In the 1990s, 650,000 houses and flats were better insulated and were given more efficient heating systems. Berlin has played an important role in this and its results are also impressive. A presentation was given by Hella Dunger Löper, a senior official at the Building and Housing Senate Department, Berlin GESOBAU‚ Märkisches Viertel about the Gesobau redevelopment. This was the largest redevelopment project in the German housing sector, carried out as part of the KfW housing renovation and CO2 building programme. In her presentation, Hella stated:

More than 13,000 flats have undergone energy renovation since 2008 at almost no cost for tenants… [and] connected to a district heating network.

An assessment from outside the Berlin administration, but equally positive, comes from the Zero Footprint Foundation:

When GESOBAU AG decided to modernize the 15,000 residential units it had built in the Märkisches Viertel locality of Berlin in the 1960s, it devised a three-point plan that would be both economical and repeatable elsewhere. It would re-skin the buildings to enhance energy conservation while also converting heating and hot water systems to environmentally friendly technologies. In addition, GESOBAU instructed tenants on how to operate their apartments for optimum energy conservation using new smart technologies. The first 538 apartments were converted in 2008 and the project is due for completion in 2015. The primary energy saving as a result of the re-skinning is 71 percent of previous loads or 316 tonnes of CO2 annually.

(See zerofootprint: Re-Skinning award.)

The German Energy Agency 2010 fact sheet on Efficient Homes states that:

Up to now, 143 buildings have been refurbished as ‘low energy buildings.

The Efficient Homes programme has high standards:

  • Insulation must be approximately 20cm thick (external for flats, internal or external for houses).
  • There must be a minimum of double-glazing and, in most cases, triple-glazing or passive house windows.
  • The use of efficient gas condensing appliances, ground-source heat pumps or wood pellet boilers or connection to district heating is required.

As a result, renovated buildings use 50% of the level required for comparable new buildings.

C40, an alliance of 40 cities committed to reducing climate emissions, reports good progress in Berlin. A 2010 paper (see Clinton Climate Iniative: Energy Saving Partnership Berlin (ESP) – An effective and innovative model to reduce CO2 and energy costs without expenses for building owners) describes the Berlin Energy Saving Partnership. This is a partnership between Berlin council and Berlin Energy Agency aimed at “efficient refurbishment of public and private buildings”. It created ESCOs to remove the need for up-front investment by consumers:

Until today, 1,300 buildings have been upgraded, delivering CO2-reductions of nearly 64,000 t/a (average saving of CO2-emissions of 27.3 % in relation to the baseline scenario). With these investments total guaranteed cost savings of about €10.5m or 26% of usual energy costs (baseline) were realised. So far, ESCOs have invested about €44.4m to refurbish different hardware components.

However, most of this has been on public and commercial buildings, not residential ones.

Since 2003, 12,000 tenants have been supplied with energy from the wood-fired cogeneration plant located in Berlin Gropiusstadt.

Communicating with consumers

In March 2009, a Germany-wide consumer alliance was launched in Berlin called “furs klima” (“For the Climate”) and with the strapline “for me, for you, for the climate”. This brings together consumer associations from across Germany, including the German tenants association, a car club and the consumer service of the German catholic women’s association.

The communications efforts of “Furs Klima” appear to be having good effects. A report published in December 2009 states that two thirds of Berliners feel well informed about health and environmental issues (see Verbrauchermonitoring Berlin Im Auftrag der Senatsverwaltung für Gesundheit, Umwelt und Verbraucherschutz Berlin).

The right balance?

Germany has done well on energy efficiency, but does it strike the right balance between quality and quantity, between raising efficiency to very high standards in some properties and raising it less but in many more properties? 650,000 houses and flats were improved during the 1990s, but this left many millions without any upgrade. 143 buildings upgraded over seven years in the Efficient Homes programme means just 20 a year. This strongly suggests that there is too much emphasis on excellence and too little on widespread action.

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