Interview with Manuela Almeida

Associate Professor at the University of Minho in Portugal

You are the International Coordinator for the project IEA – EBC Annex 56 - Energy and Carbon Emissions Optimisation in Building Renovation, promoted by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Please can you tell us more about this project and what it is aiming to achieve?

Nowadays, we are faced by undeniable climate changes caused by the increasing presence of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and buildings play an important role. In Europe, buildings are responsible for more than 40% of primary energy consumption and for more than 36% of greenhouse gasses emissions (GEE). It has been proven that there is potential for a large reduction of these two parameters in a cost-effective way.

The majority of the European building stock is more than 20 years old and in order to achieve the EU reduction goals for GEE and primary energy consumption (set to 2030 and 2050), it is crucial to improving its energy performance. The question is to know what the best solutions for the renovation of the existing buildings are taking into account, the energy and emissions reduction goals, the economic interests, the wellbeing of the occupants, the available solutions and their sustainability.

This project was launched at the end of 2010 in order to find an answer to this question. The aim of the project was to develop a methodology, which could be a basis for future standards, to enable cost-effective renovations of existing buildings, while optimizing energy consumption and emissions reduction and preserving the occupants’ comfort. The methodology is intended to help private entities and agencies in their renovation decisions, as well as governmental agencies in the definition of future regulations.

With this project, we developed the new methodology which is useful for professionals in the building renovation area; some Guidelines with recommendations for Policy Makers and Professional Home Owners, as well as some tools to help apply the methodology. A selection of successful renovation case studies was also published for motivation purposes.

You mentioned that there are 23 Institutions from 12 counties and more than 40 individuals involved in this project. What are some of the challenges, as well as positive aspects of working with such a large and diverse group of researchers in different institutions across the world?

Working with all these colleagues, coming from different locations and with different backgrounds, was really a challenge, but in the end very rewarding. At first, nobody new anyone and then there we were, all sitting together around a table, trying to find an answer to the question raised that everyone thought was relevant. It took us a lot of time and effort to find a common language, common understanding and a common goal, but once we established that and after two years of hard work, it has been quite a wonderful experience. We managed to build a very cohesive, complementary, coherent and committed group of people with whom it has been a pleasure to work with.

Do you plan to follow up on this project in the future, or do you have another project in mind?

Yes, we already have another project, also under the scope of the International Energy Agency that is just starting and also under my coordination (IEA – EBC Annex 75 - Cost-effective Building Renovation at District Level Combining Energy Efficiency & Renewables). Since the experience with the previous project has been so positive, we proposed a follow up project last year that has already been approved, and the first steps are under way.

What do you think the biggest challenges are for young women in engineering?

There are big opportunities in engineering for young women all around the world. Engineering is everywhere. However, young women cannot abdicate of being women and they must act according to their nature, which means, acting differently from men. This is what makes the difference. They must never be afraid or feel intimidated to express their ideas even when they are different. They have to persevere, never give up and above all, be enthusiastic and enjoy what they are doing. Fairness and honesty in all decisions taken are also essential qualities.

What are engineers doing at the moment that you think hampers our path to a more sustainable future?

This question is strange to me. Engineering is a wonderful profession. Engineering is present in everyday life and engineers in general can only help reach a more sustainable world. I have a very positive opinion of engineers, who are always trying to improve the quality of life and facilitate human beings living.

Is there one thing engineers could do quickly and easily that would make society more sustainable?

Sustainability is not a thing that can be reached easily and quickly but engineers can give a very positive contribution to reach a better and more sustainable world, although this would need a rather global change of mind set. New and more humanitarian values should be put into practice to improve sustainability and engineers can help finding ways to it. Many are already trying to do it.

Why did you decide to go into the engineering field?

It was always clear for me that I would follow a career in engineering. My father was an engineer as well as my older brother. Besides that, I was very good at mathematics and sciences. I always had a rigorous, very logical and pragmatic mind. In my youth I was always trying to find a solution for the problems that arose. For me, this was synonymous of being an engineer…

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I do not regret any of the choices I made in the past that shaped my career. Sometimes they were difficult choices. They always involved hard work, perseverance and resilience. Nothing was offered to me. I had to conquer everything I have. But this way, any goal reached was much more appreciated and delightful.

Do you have a role model in engineering and why?

Not really! I do not have any kind of idols. I admire people with a humanitarian spirit in general. I can say that my father was my role model. He was a loving man, rigorous, honest and a hard worker. Although he died at a young age, he left me a valuable legacy in terms of human principles.

What do you enjoy most about being an Engineer?

Always doing different things. Always having different challenges. Life is not at all monotonous!

Biography:

Manuela Almeida is an Associate Professor at the Civil Engineering Department of the Minho University in Portugal. She has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering a MSc in Thermal Engineering and a five year degree in Civil Engineering. All degrees were obtained at Porto University in Portugal. She is the Head of the Sustainable Construction Research Group, vice-head of CTAC Research Center and member of the Coordination teams of the Doctoral Program in Civil Engineering and of the Doctoral Program in Sustainable Built Environment. She is member of several national and international scientific and technical associations in the fields of Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Development. She coordinates and participates in several national and international research projects in the fields of building thermal performance, nZEB, building conservation and rehabilitation and sustainable construction. She is author and co-author of more than 230 publications, including books, book chapters, articles in international and national journals, papers in international and national conferences and she is co-author of 2 patents.