Meeting Wolfgang Feist

After the International Passivhaus Conference in Darmstadt, 2016, I had the privilege of meeting Wolfgang Feist, the co-founder of the Passivhaus concept. I wanted to gauge from him his view on the role of Passivhaus in tackling climate change and fuel poverty.

As a man of science, he begins by explaining that energy is only ever borrowed. There are no tricks to avoid the real physical world and as such we should observe and respond to its rules. We need to improve the knowledge of those involved in the environmental movement so that we can approach the problem of climate change scientifically.

Feist assures me that we need not be afraid of the state of climate change as we have the means necessary to curb it. Whilst he believes we should be doing all we can to tackle the issue, we should also be mindful of creating a smooth path for progress. There is no need to create conflicts.

Feist suggests that the term ‘fuel poverty’ is deceptive. Lack of fuel is not the issue, there is plenty to go round. Poverty is the problem. The trick is not to make fuel cheaper. We need to 1. reduce the need for fuel and 2. increase the income of the lowest earners. The construction industry can tackle the first part but it will take society as a whole to address the second.

Construction is a slow-moving industry and there is no fast way to create change, but Feist argues that with Passivhaus we barely need to change attitudes. It is such a simple concept, as long as it is introduced at the earliest stage of the design process. Once you know Passivhaus, you use Passivhaus. This is why he believes that broad communication and education would improve uptake.

He leaves me with the question:

“Are there any inherent disadvantages to building an energy efficient building?” 

Umm… I’ve got nothing!