Buildings efficiency ‘absolutely central’ to 2030 climate package


Unlocking the energy saving potential of the continent’s ageing building stock will be “absolutely central” to a key review of EU policy this summer, the EU’s top energy efficiency official has said.

But Paul Hodson, the head of the EU’s energy efficiency unit, flagged "micro" public action as the way forward, dampening hopes of major policy advances in the review which will stock-take progress towards meeting 2020 energy saving goals and mull 2030 objectives.

The paper will now be published in July, during the EU’s summer vacation period.  

Speaking at the Brussels launch of an International Energy Agency (IEA) buildings efficiency roadmap, Hodson said that calibrating the “optimum combination” of technologies would be key to the review.

This could involve a Christmas stocking of measures aimed at “increasing the facility of building renewables, district heating and [maximising] zero-carbon electricity coming from remote sources, and fueling things like heat pumps,” he said.

But Hodson hinted that a fine-tuning of existing measures was more likely than a Cartesian policy thrust. “What I think is problematic is that energy efficiency is only small stuff,” he said. “There are no big things that anybody can do.”

“It is a bit difficult in a world resistant to public action," he added. "That is something we need to take into account when designing these measures.”

Key sections of the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive requiring the refurbishment of public buildings and energy savings obligations were watered down, during protracted negotiations between EU states.

Yet the IEA’s ‘Technology Roadmap for energy efficient building envelopes’ says that if global warming is to be contained to 2 degrees Celsius, more than 40% of the energy savings expected from heating and cooling energy demand by 2050 will come from the buildings sector.

That would be equivalent to the entire current energy consumption of the United Kingdom.

2030 climate and energy package

Hopes were dashed that the Commission might point a way towards realising this ambition in the 2030 climate and energy package last month. But several new efficiency endeavours that could affect the buildings sector should be unveiled later this year.

A review of Eco-design and Eco-labelling measures could extend labelling schemes to energy-related products such as windows, for example.

New guidelines are also due out before 2015 to clarify the meaning of a requirement in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive that all EU states make new buildings ‘nearly zero-energy’ by 2021.  

Hodson suggested that a focus on consumer behaviour might be preferable to imposing new obligations on member states, pinpointing poor public finances as a stumbling block.

Energy saving “neither can nor should be done with public money except at the margins,” he said. “It can’t be done with public money because there isn’t enough. It shouldn’t be done with public money because the private benefit is so vast.”

However, the IEA’s roadmap outlines a shopping list of measures that governments could take to benefit their populations, such as:

  • Funding competitive research and development for critical technologies such as well-insulating and dynamic windows
  • Establishing or developing incentives for very high-performance products and deep renovations
  • Providing seed funding to help establish test infrastructure and building code mechanisms
  • Funding collaborative international research to help new technologies reach maturity
  • Providing sunset incentives and promotion efforts for reallocating resources to the areas with the greatest energy saving potential

Deep renovations

Speaking at the same Brussels IEA conference, Oliver Rapf, the executive director of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) said that it was a mistake to consider efficiency improvements in the construction sector solely from a short-term profit and loss perspective.

“There is a myth that energy efficiency impacts are only valuable if they pay back in cost savings,” he said. “This is the wrong approach as Europe’s building stock is in utter need of deep renovation.”

As well as the climate benefit accruing from widespread refurbishments, poorly insulated and damp buildings had a public health cost in the residential sector, as well as affecting children being taught in sub-standard schools, he said.

However, to force all buildings renovations to be deep would be “an extremely strong public policy,” Hodson cautioned.

“You need to prove [the necessity for] it before you force all the public sector to go down that road,” he said. 

  • February 2014: European parliament Plenary will vote on their position on 2030 targets, which conflicts with the Commission's
  • March 2014: EU Council will discuss climate and energy issues
  • May 2014: New EU Parliament to be elected
  • May 2014: EU member states must prepare schemes for their energy companies to deliver annual energy savings of 1.5% as part of the Energy Efficiency Directive
  • June 2014: Review of progress towards meeting the 2020 energy efficiency target
  • June 2014: EU Council will discuss energy and climate issues
  • September 2014: International climate summit in Lima, Peru
  • September 2015: International climate summit in Paris, France due to sign off on global agreement
  • 2020: Deadline for new international climate deal to come into effect
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet binding targets for 20% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, improvements in energy efficiency, and market share for renewable energy
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Mike Parr's picture

With respect to Mr Hodson's comments, I both disagree and agree.

“What I think is problematic is that energy efficiency is only small stuff. There are no big things that anybody can do.”

Buildings account for 40%+ of energy consumed in Europe. That looks to me like a large figure. "near zero energy homes" probably means something below 5% - suggesting "big things that everybody can do".

His next statement nails the problem: “It is a bit difficult in a world resistant to public action. That is something we need to take into account when designing these measures.

Restating: the marketism approach (= markets have all the solutions) does not work or works badly/slowly in the case of energy efficiency in general and buildings in particular. If it did work then we would not need the various EU directives, "markets" would solve the problem.

One approach (a stick) that would start to impact on up-take of energy efficiency is energy pricing. Currently this is linear with discounts for consuming more. A new approach could be: everybody gets an allocation of energy for the homes. Prices are regulated up to this amount. Once past this limit geometric pricing kicks in - e.g. the next 50kWhrs above the limit are priced at x2, next 50kWhrs x4 and so on. Revenues from this could be used by the state to help those in energy poverty (= insulate homes properly). Furthermore, the approach would be self-funding - the rich making the choice between reducing consumption or making a donation to the less well off. The policy could be gradually phased in.

The above would also provide the adjustment to consumer behaviour identified by Paul and certainly needed. Price rises work: British Gas saw a 12% decline in gas consumption 2008 to 2012 in the UK this correlated to price rises.

Kaj Embren's picture

Higher ambition with binding targets on energy efficiency and renewable energy - the way to act seriously on Climate Change and Sustainable Development!

The EU needs to combine climate issues, energy efficiency and renewable energy into a coherent policy for sustainable growth, rather than separating them and moving away from holistic policy. The UK government, which is acting against this type of integrated target-setting would do well to read the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum’s report on building efficiency which proposes realistic efficiency targets and incentives, while arguing that UK businesses can achieve “a cost saving opportunity of up to £1.6 billion through investment in energy efficiency”.

The EU knows this only too well. According to its own long-term trend analysis, a policy based on “business as usual” will meet neither its target of a decarbonated EU by 2050 nor the climate change target of less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Nordic countries can show the way. With 25 million people and a combined GDP of about $1 trillion, they can have a direct impact and inspire followers in Europe and around the world. A report from the business-oriented Think Tank, Global Utmaning (Global Challenges), shows that carbon-neutrality is a possibility. It proposes a way to viably reduce energy-related CO2 emissions by 85 percent and cover the remaining 15 percent offset with international carbon credits.

As early as 2012, Sweden achieved the EU target for 2020 of using renewables for 10 percent of its transport sector and 49 percent of the total energy mix. Energy use from fossil fuels decreased and now bioenergy is more of a major resource than oil. More at or