Ecoworks Transforming Climate Action With High-Tech Building Retrofits

Berlin, a hub of innovation, is now home to a groundbreaking climate startup known as ecoworks. This forward-thinking company is harnessing the power of digital technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), and industrial robots to address one of the most pressing challenges of our time: energy-inefficient buildings.

A staggering three-quarters of buildings in Europe are classified as energy inefficient, with approximately half of the 315 million residential units in the region boasting energy performance ratings of E or worse. However, Europe has set its sights on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this ambitious goal requires the transformation of millions of existing buildings, including residential apartments, office complexes, and public institutions such as schools and hospitals. Rapid action is crucial if we are to combat the legacy of past construction practices and decarbonize our built environment.

The urgency of this endeavor cannot be overstated. To effectively tackle the climate crisis, we need to upgrade existing buildings at a pace far more rapid than the construction industry typically moves. Traditional players in the sector, with their sluggish innovation cycles, are unlikely to provide the solutions needed to retrofit these structures. It is startups like ecoworks that are poised to lead the way.

Emanuel Heisenberg, CEO, and co-founder of ecoworks, explains, “Most housing and construction companies invest minimal amounts in research and development—less than 0.1% for housing companies and just 1% for construction firms. These sectors, especially the renovation sector, are ill-equipped to retrofit all these buildings. In Europe, we must invest €6 trillion by 2030 for renovation, but the industry itself won’t suffice. We have a productivity deficit, with around 90% of work carried out on-site. Thus, we must pursue two objectives: automation and relocating as much work as possible to factories where robots can reduce costs and make housing renovation affordable. It’s somewhat absurd that a relatively small company like ecoworks is the driving force of innovation in such a vast sector, but that’s the reality.”

This need for innovation and transformation extends beyond climate action. Cold and inefficient buildings not only contribute to environmental problems but also result in high heating costs for residents. Germany, historically reliant on Russian gas for heating, faced supply disruptions due to geopolitical tensions. This has underscored the vulnerability of relying on fossil fuels and ignited the demand for comprehensive renovations of domestic housing stock.

Ecoworks has a visionary solution: smart retrofitting, starting with residential apartment buildings in its home market of Germany. However, the company plans to expand its impact by licensing its software and methods for use beyond Germany’s borders in the future.

Founded in 2018, ecoworks employs cutting-edge technology and automated manufacturing processes to reduce the costs of retrofitting apartment buildings. The company achieves this by installing prefabricated insulation panels on the exteriors of existing structures, simultaneously addressing heat loss and integrating renewable energy generation. In essence, ecoworks delivers energy efficiency improvements and decarbonized heating systems in a single construction project.

The process involves fitting an insulated facade to the building’s exterior. These prefabricated cladding panels, made from eco-friendly materials like reclaimed wood and wooden cellulose, slot together seamlessly and come with integrated windows. Additionally, they can incorporate external features like balconies, enhancing the living spaces for residents. While these improvements slightly reduce natural light penetration due to thicker windowsills, the benefits far outweigh this minor drawback.

Ecoworks’ approach allows existing indoor radiators to be retained while transitioning from fossil fuels to clean renewables. Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells on the roof power heat pumps installed in the building’s basement, providing clean heating and hot water for the apartments. This innovative system slashes primary energy consumption by an impressive 85% to 90%.

Emanuel Heisenberg emphasizes, “The energy required for heating, hot water, and electricity is produced on-site. Heat is generated by basement heat pumps, and our patented system efficiently delivers the heat through the facade into the apartments. In the end, these buildings generate more energy than residents consume for heating, hot water, and electricity, thanks to the photovoltaic installation on the roof.”

Unlike new construction, where energy efficiency and clean energy generation can be incorporated from the outset, many existing buildings are poorly insulated and still rely on fossil fuels. The cost and environmental impact of tearing down and replacing these structures are prohibitive. Ecoworks presents a pragmatic solution by focusing on smart retrofitting.

The manufacturing of the prefabricated building skins occurs off-site in factories equipped with industrial robots. This approach optimizes costs through economies of scale while ensuring high-quality components. Ecoworks’ on-site team handles the construction process, from preparing the site to the assembly of panels and installation of new services. The rapid assembly process takes four to six weeks, contributing to reduced disruption compared to traditional construction methods, which often involve various tradespeople and extended timelines.

Importantly, residents do not need to vacate their apartments during the retrofit. Only minimal access is required for a few days to replace windows and switch plumbing to the new heat source. This approach minimizes disruption and ensures a smoother transition to energy-efficient living.

Since its launch in 2019, ecoworks has successfully completed four projects, totaling approximately 20 to 25 apartments. The company is now accelerating its efforts and currently planning and installing upgrades for 850 apartments, with the aim of completion next year. This represents around 40% of the total number of apartments undergoing serial renovation in Germany—a clear indication of the unmet demand for green retrofit solutions.

Ecoworks, which boasts an order book of around €100 million for the next year alone, is exploring opportunities beyond residential retrofits. The company is eyeing government buildings, schools, hospitals, and offices as potential targets for its innovative retrofit approach. With aspirations to scale to 10,000 units by 2027, representing €1 billion in revenue, ecoworks is poised for significant growth. This expansion will involve licensing its software and hardware development to unlock more demand for retrofitting existing housing stock.

In a significant development, ecoworks has announced the successful close of a €40 million Series A funding round. Leading the round is the environmentally focused World Fund, with participation from Haniel, Kompas VC, and ISAI. This funding will be channeled into enhancing ecoworks’ software platform, including the launch of a customer interface that provides clients with insights into every stage of the planning and installation process. The company also aims to further develop its cost prediction tool, refine hardware design, and expand its team to accommodate a higher project volume. With a goal to generate between €80 million and €100 million in billings over the next 12 months, ecoworks is poised to lead the transformation of the building sector towards net-zero emissions.

Ecoworks’ commitment to fire protection is unwavering. The company emphasizes that its designs include fire protection measures, with facades designed to resist flames for up to 30 minutes. Additionally, these designs prevent fires from spreading between floors. Safety remains paramount throughout the retrofit process.

In conclusion, ecoworks represents a beacon of hope in the quest to address climate change and transition to a sustainable future. Through innovative technology, automation, and a commitment to excellence, ecoworks is not only