Breda frames energy losses to get people on board

15 December 2020

“What I don’t see, I won’t believe” infamously said the apostle St. Thomas, gaining him countless quotes as a symbol of disbelief, but also, one could argue, a sense of pragmatism. As the team in Breda found out, many people are St. Thomases, so they got busy making people ‘see’.

Taking pictures

Armed with thermographic cameras, the first phase of the See2Do project, consisted of collecting pictures of residential building exteriors showing where and how much energy escaped them. The photo album filled by 2,500 images was then used during meetings with residents to show them the energy loss they were facing and start a conversation around measures they could take to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings.

“Many people know that single-glaze windows are not energy efficient,” says Pieter Klep, See2Do project leader, “but when they see it in a picture, they really understand what that means.” The thermographic pictures can show several elements. For example, users can see the difference of temperature between traditional fluorescent lightning versus LED lighting, where the higher temperature indicates a lower efficiency.

Frontside thermographic picture (red is energy loss)

Of the 600 households the project has reached out to, 10% moved to phase two: the ‘kitchen table conversation’. The photos from the exterior gave a first impression of the energy loss, but with a ‘kitchen table conversation’ residents could have a more detailed picture of their specific situation and get personalised advice on how to make energy savings.

Energy loss from heating radiator through non-isolated exterior facade

“Citizens are at the heart of the energy transition,’’ says alderwoman Greetje Bos, VVD, “This is a social transition, that is why as a local municipality we engage and involve citizens during all steps of this process. This is only possible and successful if this transition has a clear call to action, that is manageable and visible in citizens everyday life.’’

Door to door

The team in Breda learned that the most efficient way to involve residents is to go to them. “We have learned that we have to bring the measures to the people,” explains Max van Dijk, responsible for European and public affairs at the City of Breda, “and show them the impact they can have on their houses, not expect them to come to us.”

For this reason, the ‘Greenhopper’ was an essential tool of the project. This mobile information station has hopped through many neighbourhoods informing residents about energy saving strategies. The ‘Greenhopper’ is manned by volunteers from the local energy cooperative Bres, which has joined forces with the city to raise awareness among its residents and enrol them to help Breda achieve its energy transition. “By making people aware of the energy saving they can achieve, the city can move forward towards its climate goals,” says Paul Paree, coordinator of the climate programme at the City of Breda.

After meeting around 2,000 people in a year and a half, the ‘Greenhopper’ had to adapt to the COVID crisis. All team efforts moved online, and recently the ‘Greenhopper’ has been put back on the streets to meet small groups of residents. The city had also planned to organise specific breakfast sessions targeting companies that could learn from their experience in energy efficiency, but COVID interrupted that plan.

Show first to be followed

In the meantime, the city is working by example. “We are one of the companies,” declares Paree. “We have to give the good example.” In practice it means that different city departments are integrating their energy efficiency advice, while others have been used as testing grounds for new technologies.

In fact, part of the See2Do project consisted of transforming some of the municipal offices into energy efficiency labs testing innovative control systems for LED lighting, a cooling system for their server room and the performances of thermoshield paint.

How do you squeeze even more savings out of LED? Breda proposes a system hooked to external light sensors, so that the indoor LEDs can mimic the intensity and colour of the outdoor light levels, creating a more comfortable light atmosphere for people working inside. Another option is installing a system with a set of controls that lets the people in the space individually adjust each light source to create whatever complex light pallet appeals most to them and is most suitable for their situation.

The thermoshield paint test was unexpected. “The effect of the paint was surprising,” explains Klep. “The room was heating quicker, and it reflected 20% more light.” With 20% more light and heat reflection, it is possible to reduce the levels of lighting and heating by 20% in the rooms that have been painted with this innovative material. A simple solution for residents as it is just a question of buying and applying the paint.

Arguably, the most interesting test was the solution to cool the server room. With companies relying more and more on digital, more and bigger server rooms will need cooling, as all server rooms need to be kept permanently at a low temperature to ensure that all their data is kept safe and the system doesn’t lose connectivity. Most server rooms rely on standard air conditioning, which uses a large volume of electricity. In Breda, the new system is a thermal energy system, already commonly used in the Netherlands as a heating system in residential buildings. The system cools the servers using cold water from an underground reservoir, and only keeps the air conditioning as an emergency backup system.

Getting people on board

The idea was not just to test new measures, but also to use them as examples to show to people and businesses to encourage uptake. The city has organised visits to see the solutions in action, and the busy public halls showcase information about the implemented solutions so that locals coming for administrative reasons, such as renewing their passport and driving licence, can learn about thermoshield paint, for example, while they wait.

The See2Do project has concluded, but Breda is reinforcing its efforts to raise awareness and extend its energy saving measures to its residents and companies. The local communication strategy focuses on the city transition and for those people who aren’t believers yet, just wait and Breda will make you see.

Read the full case study here.