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Research-Development-Innovation: a win-win partnership between the Construction sector and the European Commission

The construction sector: a strategic player in the European economy

The construction sector in Europe is an essential pillar of the European economy.  It is the biggest economic activity, generating annual sales of €1,300 billion, equivalent to 9.6% of GDP. It also employs 30.7% of Europe's industrial workforce.

It has a major impact on EU energy and environmental policies since it represents 40% of energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. It therefore has a fundamental role to play in reaching the targets set by the EU in terms of energy efficiencies, the use of renewable energies, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

And, finally, construction directly impacts the lives of European citizens on a daily basis, both on a professional and personal level, and therefore their quality of life in general.

These are all valid reasons for the European Union to make it a priority area for action.

A little bit of history and some acronyms 

During the 7th 2007-2013 RDFP, the Commission successfully tested a whole series of new concepts, such as:

. European Technological Platforms (ETP), which bring together players in a particular sector in order to exchange with the Commission, and therefore make sure that European R&D financing better satisfies the strategic expectations of the real economy.  Around 40 ETPs have been set up to date.

. Research Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), (not to be confused with the complex public procurement contracts of the same name, without the outsourcing of the financing management).

As early as 2005, the construction sector launched the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP). Amongst the founder-members, Bouygues Construction was the first organisation to assume its presidency. The ECTP worked to raise awareness of the sector during the preparation of the 7th RDFP, launched in 2007. The construction theme had been taken on board, but spread out a little too much between the various strategic priorities.

The international crisis of 2007-2008 prompted the European Commission to propose an economic recovery plan that pinpointed a few key sectors to receive specific attention, such as factories of the future, "green" cars, and energy efficiency in buildings. In practical terms, the budgets of the 7th RDFP were ring-fenced for each theme, and collaboration was structured into research PPPs. The Energy efficient Buildings PPP (EeB PPP) was created and allocated a budget of €500 million, to be spent up to 2013, to provide half the financing of the selected projects.

In order to structure its collaboration with the Commission on this theme on a more formal basis, the ECTP created a structure governed by Belgian law whose aim was to bring together all the construction players concerned. This led to the creation of the Energy Efficient Buildings Association (E2BA).

An initial balance sheet of actions carried out between 2008 and 2013

A number of projects are still in progress, some of which were launched very recently. Nonetheless, an impact analysis is currently being carried out by Arup, one of the founder members of E2BA, and a few key figures already show what has been accomplished since the launch of the PPP in 2008.

For instance, the EeB PPP has enabled the installation of 242 demonstrators in 24 countries, including three outside the EU (Norway, Switzerland and Taiwan). Estimates show that there has been a 39% overall energy saving in these buildings as well as 4-million tonne reduction in carbon dioxide emissions (renovated buildings cover a surface area of 781,000 m² and new buildings 638,000 m²).

In terms of participation, 70,000 end-users in some 15,300 housing units took part. 22 universities and schools, two sports centres, two airports, and one metro station also took part in various projects.

Projects must also include a training and awareness-raising dimension. For example, 4.9 million people were informed about the project and 8,500 received direct training.

Compared to the €500 million provided  by the Commission, €429 million has already been invested by the partners participating in the projects, underlining the commitment of sector players.

The EeB PPP responded to the desire of the Commission to bolster the participation of SMEs in its RDI programmes. As a result, SMEs now represent 30% of committed partners, which is one of the highest rates of the 7th RDFP.

Finally, all projects combined should result in the market launch of 286 new technologies, of which 124 should benefit from patent protection.

Horizon 2020: renewing the challenge for 2014-2020

On the back of the successes gained up to now, and in the face of the persistent Energy-Climate challenge, the Commission, as early as 2012, confirmed its intention of prolonging the EeB PPP beyond 2013, and therefore has collaborated for more than a year with E2BA in the preparation of this renewed PPP.

On 11 December 2013, the first calls for proposals resulting from this joint thinking were launched. They relate to calls for both 2014 and 2015.

For the first call for proposals, the chosen themes concern building envelopes, inspection and assessment techniques for construction processes, and the optimisation of the impact of projects from the PPPs.

For the 2015 call for proposals (to be launched at the end of 2014), the subjects will be design instruments for the renovation of buildings and districts, integrated solutions for the thermal storage of energy in buildings, instruments and methods for reducing the gap between theoretical energy performances and actual performances, and integrated approaches for the renovation of residential buildings.

On 16 and 17 December 2013, these calls were presented in detail during Open Days in Brussels. On 17 December the official launch of the EeB PPP for the 2014-2020 period took place. The co-signatories were the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Maire Geoghegan Quinn, and Emmanuel Forest, Chairman of E2BA and CEO of Bouygues Europe.

The Energy Efficient Buildings PPP is now considered a strategic instrument to facilitate innovation, and an essential starting point to kick start the European economy, in order to increase the security of the EU's energy supply, by reducing demand, and in order to reduce the environmental footprint of our society.

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