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European Commission’s proposals to boost decarbonisation of buildings might be too cautious

The European Commission has proposed to align the rules for the energy performance of buildings with the European Green Deal and decarbonise the EU’s building stock by 2050. This proposal will facilitate the renovation of homes, schools, hospitals, offices and other buildings across Europe to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy bills, improving the quality of life for millions of Europeans.

“Stimulating renovation of homes and other buildings supports economic recovery and creates new job opportunities,” said Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans. “Moreover, energy renovation leads to lower energy bills and in the end, the investment pays for itself. By targeting the obstacles to renovation and providing financial support for the necessary upfront investment, today’s proposal on the energy performance of buildings aims to boost the rate of energy renovation across the EU. Its focus on the worst-performing buildings prioritises the most cost-effective renovations and helps fight energy poverty.” 

“Buildings are the single largest energy consumer in Europe, using 40 per cent of our energy and creating 36 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions,” underlined Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson. “That is because most buildings in the EU are not energy efficient and are still mostly powered by fossil fuels. We need to do something about this urgently, as over 85 per cent of today’s buildings will still be standing in 2050, when Europe must be climate neutral. Improving our homes is also an effective response to high energy prices – the worst-performing buildings in the EU consume many times more energy than new or properly renovated ones. And it’s often the most vulnerable who live in the least efficient houses and therefore struggle to pay the bills. Renovation reduces both the energy footprint of buildings and the energy costs for households, while also boosting economic activity and job creation.”

The Commission proposes that as of 2030, all new buildings must be zero-emission. To harness the potential of faster action in the public sector, all new public buildings must be zero-emission already as of 2027. This means that buildings must consume little energy, be powered by renewables as far as possible, emit no on-site carbon emissions from fossil fuels and must indicate their global warming potential based on their whole-life cycle emissions on their Energy Performance Certificate.

When it comes to renovations, new EU-level minimum energy performance standards are proposed, requiring the worst-performing 15 per cent of the building stock of each Member State to be upgraded from the Energy Performance Certificate’s Grade G to at least Grade F by 2027 for non-residential buildings and 2030 for residential buildings. This initial focus on the lowest-performing buildings fulfils the twin objective of maximising the potential for decarbonisation and for the alleviation of energy poverty.

National Buildings Renovation Plans will be fully integrated into National Energy and Climate Plans. This will ensure comparability and tracking of progress and make a direct link to mobilising financing and triggering the reforms and investments that are needed. These plans will need to include roadmaps for phasing out fossil fuels in heating and cooling by 2040 at the latest, along with a pathway for transforming the national building stock into zero-emission buildings by 2050.

Also, easier access to information and lower costs for consumers help to boost renovation. The new proposal introduces a building Renovation passport that provides owners with a tool to facilitate their planning and a step-by-step renovation towards zero-emissions level. The Commission also invites Member States to include renovation considerations in public and private financing rules and to establish appropriate instruments, in particular for low-income households.

Finally, regarding mobility, the proposal supports the rollout of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in residential and commercial buildings and makes more dedicated parking spaces available for bicycles.

Limitations of the Commission’s proposals

The Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS) found the link with e-mobility to be good news for some new and renovated buildings. However, most residential and existing buildings will not be required to install any new charging points, which means that the right to plug will remain theoretical for many, particularly given the low renovation rates in the EU.

“We will need millions of new smart charging points across Europe to support the shift to electric mobility,” said Luka De Bruyckere, programme manager at ECOS. “Today’s proposal means a crucial step in that direction. However, requirements for residential and existing buildings are still far too low. Only those with more than three or even 20 parking spots will be obliged to install charging infrastructure. This is not enough, given that building renovation rates in Europe are low. We need stronger requirements to make sure that our buildings are ready for smart e-mobility. We need a true right to plug.”

Also, the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE) has welcomed the recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive as a key element to complete the Fit for 55 package. However, the overall ambition is not sufficient to tap the economic and environmental potential of the full decarbonisation of the EU building stock.

For example, the EU-ASE is very positive about the introduction of a pathway for buildings to become zero-emission by 2050 and innovative requirements that can help trigger building renovations, like mandatory Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) for public and private residential and non-residential buildings.

On the other hand, the Commission has been too cautious when setting the level of ambition of the measures proposed and thus runs the risk that the multiple benefits of energy renovations, in terms of cost savings, increased property value, enhanced comfort and emission reductions, will remain largely untapped.

“The EPBD proposal is indisputably giving us better measures and tools to increase the rate and depth of building renovations,” commented Monica Frassoni, President of the European Alliance to Save Energy. “However, some key measures remain too weak in terms of proposed deadlines and scope and too much flexibility is given to Member states without a clear idea about what will happen if they are not fully implemented. All this makes the goal to fully decarbonise the building stock by 2050 even more challenging.”

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