Switzerland is investing in the future – in public buildings in Estonia

Article, 22.12.2016

In the fight against climate change, the thermo-modernisation of infrastructure plays an important role. With Swiss support, Estonia is renovating public facilities in accordance with internationally recognised energy standards and providing them with alternative energy sources. The projects not only improve the global climate but also the working and learning environment inside the buildings.

Four children's bicycles in front of a school building. The grey facade is crumbling, the windows are simply glazed.
Primary school in Rapla, Estonia: The energy efficiency of public buildings in Estonia is about 20-30% lower than in other EU countries. SECO

One year after the follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, containing binding climate goals for 195 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a first assessment has been drawn up. From 7–18 November the 22nd Climate Change Conference took place in Morocco, focusing on how developing and emerging economies can be supported by the industrialised nations in reducing greenhouse gases in a concerted effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. In view of the ambitious scale of this project, more engagement seems necessary.

Climate protection: a key area of Switzerland’s contribution to the enlarged EU

As part of its contribution to the enlarged EU, in six EU partner countries Switzerland is contributing around CHF 190 million to energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies. In Estonia, CHF 6.5 million is being invested in the energy efficiency of public buildings and the use of renewable energy sources. With the completion of renovation work at the primary school in Rapla (see picture before the renovation) at the end of November, this project was successfully brought to an end. Thanks to exchange rate gains and savings made during implementation, six buildings instead of the four originally planned were renovated according to internationally recognised energy standards. Three kindergartens, two primary schools and a retirement home now serve as model buildings for energy-efficient construction in the public sector.

National energy standards for buildings as a long-term goal

Before this project, research and innovation expenditure on energy efficiency and renewable energy in Estonia was low. Energy standards for buildings were non-existent. This project therefore not only aimed to reduce CO2 emissions and energy consumption, but also to raise awareness among the public about the necessity of climate protection in infrastructure projects. Local know-how has also been built up and the establishment of energy standards for buildings at the national level has been given a decisive boost.

Public interest in this project was considerable. The project implementation was accompanied by significant media coverage. Several students from the renowned University of Tartu wrote their master thesis on the topic of energy efficiency and renewable energies and used as a case study the newly renovated primary school in Väätsa. A long-term partnership has developed between the University of Tallinn and the Estonian authorities. Local professional associations and educational institutions were able to benefit from seminars, guided tours of the buildings, prepared guides and collected data.

The project has also contributed to the establishment of energy standards for buildings, through active exchanges with Swiss experts. Today, almost ten years after the start of Switzerland’s enlargement contribution, Estonia has similar building standards to those in Switzerland.

Publication year 2016
Publisher Kanal 2

Estonia: Opening of newly renovated public school in Väätsa

As part of Switzerland’s enlargement contribution, five other countries are also being supported in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energies. Adaptation to the local context is important, which means that the projects vary widely from country to country, ranging from a biomass heating plant in Lebork, Poland, which replaced the old centralised heating system for the 35,000 inhabitants of the city, to thermo-modernisation and use of heat pumps and solar cells in 24 Lithuanian hospitals, and the promotion of electromobility in the municipality of Suceava in Romania. The latter is supported through the purchase of new electric vehicles for the municipality, the construction of charging stations and a feasibility study to convert local public transport to electromobility.