Five questions to Willy Demeyer

Version française disponible ici.

Willy Demeyer Mayor of Liège since 1999, is also President of the “Group for the Economic Redeployment of Liège” (GRE) whose mission is to develop the conditions necessary for the creation of sustainable jobs in Liege province. Energy renovation in public buildings is both an answer to the current climate and energy challenges and an economic strategy. In that dynamic, an ambitious retrofitting project has been launched in 2014,ensuring the implementation of Energy Performance Contracts (EPC).


1. Can you briefly describe the innovative approach implemented for the energy retrofit of buildings in the city of Liège?
A reflection process on the energy retrofit of public buildings in the Liège province was initiated by GRE in early 2014. Indeed, the estimated potential for investment in energy renovation amounts to 10 billion euros in the Liège province, leading to the creation/mobilisation of more than 4000 jobs.
This reflection led to the creation of the RenoWatt one-stop-shop. Its mission is to assist public entities in the implementation of Energy Performance Contracts (EPC) that guarantee energy savings and a reduction in CO2 emissions. RenoWatt assists us with technical, financial and legal expertise. Indeed, it has become a public procurement agency and it manages all of our public procurement procedures. 12 public entities got involved in the RenoWatt pilot project. EPCs are an innovative model. They are still little-known in the Walloon energy landscape even though they are increasingly widespread in France and Germany and have proven to be a success.
 Given our commitment for energy transition as a member of the Covenant of Mayors, we directly and enthusiastically joined this initiative. We have a very ambitious Action Plan for renewable energies and the momentum initiated by the GRE Liège helps us meet part of our public buildings retrofitting targets thanks to the expertise 

2. Why did you opt for Energy Performance Contracts to invest in energy efficiency in your buildings?
One of the basic elements which appealed to us in this innovative approach is the guarantee of energy results which led, among other things, to substantial financial gains for the city.
Energy Performance Contracts enable public authorities to conclude a contract with an energy service company  which is responsible for guaranteeing the energy performance of a building, and therefore a reduction in energy consumption.
 The company and its subcontractors carry out the necessary work to achieve the energy cuts and the maintenance of the facilities to guarantee the energy performance. The services of the ESCO are fully or partly paid for through the savings made over a predetermined time period. At the end of this period, the profit made from these investments goes to the city.
An Energy Performance Contract project offers a lot of benefits for public authorities:

  • The energy performance contracts are of obvious interest for local jobs. It is necessary to employ local workers to ensure the maintenance and monitoring of the facilities.
  • They can also bring financial benefits for the city's cash flow, as the energy savings allow for the repayment of the investments.
  • It also represents a real added value for the buildings and an increase in their value, since most of the investments are earmarked for insulation works (roof and wall insulation, changes to the chassis).
  • Finally, it allows The city of Liège  to be directly involved in the fight against climate change and achieved a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions.The RenoWatt project was put together with about a dozen cities, municipalities and public entities from the Liège province.

The specificity of RenoWatt-certified EPCs is the pooling of buildings belonging to different public entities. Indeed, for an EPC to be attractive for an Energy Service Company (ESCO), the projects must reach a certain size. In this way, public entities such as smaller and more rural municipalities that don't have the necessary volume to individually launch EPCs can actively join an energy retrofit process. We view this solidarity between cities and municipalities as an asset, just like the economies of scale generated by the pooling of buildings.

3.  What type of buildings  benefitted from the programme? What were the results?
12 schools, 3 sport complexes, an emblematic military site converted into offices and various workshops for municipal services are part of 3 different EPCs.
The retrofit measures include changing the chassis, replacing the HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning), and insulating the building envelope.
 Those EPCs guarantee, as a whole, an energy reduction of 35%. Essentially, the sport complexes offer the most significant energy savings (nearly 50%).
 The performance level achieved following these renovations is guaranteed for 15 years, thanks to efficient maintenance. These measures lead to overall energy savings of nearly 9 million kWh (kilowatt hour)  of energy per year and an overall 50% CO2 emissions reduction for buildings covered by Renowatt EPCs.

4. How do you assess this experience from a socio-economic point of view?
We welcome this shift operated by the city of Liège in its energy transition and we want to build up this momentum.
Beyond the financial gain brought by the EPCs, it is an opportunity for the city staff, working hand in hand with RenoWatt, to adopt a new approach to managing buildings. Our agents are developing their skills through new learning processes and trainings to measure energy performance, for example.
Moreover, we have paid much attention to the socially responsible aspect of the EPC procurements, which allow the promotion of local employment, training clause, fight against social dumping or the restrictions on sub-contracting, among other possibilities.
This social focus of the EPCs launched by RenoWatt is the fruit of in-depth reflection with the unions, the FOREM (Walloon employment and professional training service) and the Federation of Construction. The EPC procurements launched by RenoWatt are currently precursors in the Walloon landscape. In the city of Liège alone, a minimum of 2,750 hours of training will be provided in the framework of the EPCs and we will prioritise social economy enterprises.
As President of the GRE, I am delighted about the economic benefits of this project: 322 direct jobs created and 780 indirect jobs on the Walloon territory.
I am not alone in rating this experience positively. On 31 May 2017, the RenoWatt project received a "Best Energy Service Project 2017" award during the "European Energy Service Award" ceremony by the European Commission and the Berliner Energie Agentur.
In the framework of CITYnvest’s dissemination, I am pleased to see that the model developed in Liège is a source of inspiration in other European regions such in Bulgaria which  launched the Rhodoshop project.

5. What are the constraints and challenges for the implementation of such projects in Liège?
The time window for the RenoWatt pilot project was very narrow (30 months). This timing doesn't always reflect the timetable of public entities and therefore requires a strong political commitment to meet the deadlines and to move at the same speed as the other public entities involved in the pooling of buildings.
 Understanding and integrating a new model not widely used in Wallonia and even in Belgium requires an effort to convince the municipal legislative and executive bodies. The constant communication from RenoWatt and the use of technical and financial decision-making support tools are a great asset and have reassured the deputy burgomasters in charge of finances and of public works.
We should not underestimate the commitment and the workload required from the municipal staff in charge of technical and energy matters. Collecting specific data for each building included in the EPC requires time and great care (indeed, the quality of the data has a direct impact on the EPC proposals and the savings achieved). The technical staff's role is crucial because they have the best knowledge of the city’s real estate.
 Once the EPC is launched, it is the municipality's responsibility to ensure that the ESCO's instructions on the exploitation and the use of the building and of the technical facilities are respected or implemented; to ensure an acceptable use (for example, concerning opening the windows, turning off the lights...) and to prevent any indiscriminate waste of energy.