The European Parliament voted for an 80% cut in energy used by buildings today [14 March], a move that will require a massive ramping up of the EU’s renovation targets. 

“The current rate and quality of building renovation needs to be substantially scaled up in order to allow the EU to significantly reduce the energy consumption of the existing building stock by 80 %, relative to 2010 levels, by 2050,” the industry committee report on the EU’s Energy Roadmap 2050 reads.

In an unexpected twist, the plenary in Strasbourg also voted for an EU-wide energy efficiency target for 2030, alongside climate goals for  renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

Although buildings account for around 40% of the EU’s final energy use – and much of the €400 billion it spends on energy imports – the bloc currently has no binding renovation targets.

As an ‘own initiative’ and non-binding report, the parliamentary vote - on the Commission’s Energy Roadmap 2050 - will not change that. But Britta Thomsen, a Danish MEP on the industry committee which proposed it, said that it would still have an effect.   

“We start with an ‘own initiative’ report and a dialogue with the Commission, and out of that we then hope that the Commission will come up with a proposal,” she told EurActiv.

“It’s a vote for a new direction because without a binding target nothing will happen.”

Energy savings advocates say that technologies applied to heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and heat pumps have the potential to recoup all money invested within less than a decade. Acting now also avoid ‘locking-in’ future carbon emissions from buildings, they said.   

Yet between January 2008 and November 2011, building and infrastructure works actually fell by around 16% across the EU.

According to Thomsen, in a time of austerity, these kinds of investments offer the best way to save money, curb emissions and create new jobs at the local and national level.

Local green jobs

“When we talk about renewables – windmills or solar cells - you can produce those in China but renovation of houses goes on in Europe and this means that you will have the jobs here,” she said.

Thomsen added that special care should be taken to ensure that such well-paid ‘green collar’ jobs were not just given to men, but to women as well, who make up half of the tax-paying base.

In an ambitious twist, the parliamentary report called for the renovation target to apply equally to public and private buildings, although it is doubtful whether member states currently have an appetite for grand public works on this sort of scale.

A much less adventurous proposal in last year’s energy efficiency directive – for a yearly 3% renovation rate for public buildings – was watered down in committee negotiations until it only applied to buildings with an area larger than 500 m2.

In countries such as Germany, this narrowed the directive’s scope down to just 37 buildings.

But the directive also requires member states to draw up roadmaps to make their entire buildings sector more efficient by 2050, and this is where the action will now turn.

Officials in one EU country contacted by EurActiv refused to comment on the steps they were considering, as no final plan had to be drawn up until April 2014. 

Renovation roadmaps

Last week, Eurima, the European insulation manufacturers association, published a report, ‘Renovation roadmaps for buildings’ which detailed 10 key elements for mapping a path to sustainable buildings.

These include firm and ambitious targets for government and individual requirements for building owners, clarity on work specifications, inclusion of all parties in the renovation process – such as tenants, landlords and local authorities – and solid analysis of market trends.

Certification schemes are important, as are legal instruments to back up policy goals, the report says.

Upfront loans and other repayment mechanisms can help pay for expensive deep renovations, and a smart use of incentives and public education programmes can also help to increase uptake.

One of the most important steps Eurima isolate is ‘backcasting’ or beginning with a future goal – such as an 80% cut in energy use by buildings in 2050 – and then working backwards to identify policies needed to achieve it.

“None of the existing strategies is perfect, but this is a learning-by-doing exercise,” said Andoni Hildago, a spokesman for Eurima.