Van Rompuy used a video address to tell a conference organised by ‘Renovate Europe’, in Brussels that EU regulations obliging new properties to emit zero net carbon emissions by the next decade are not enough.
“Renovating existing buildings is also essential because 90% of them are here to stay,” he said.
“And deep renovation of existing buildings has also the potential to stimulate innovation, to improve health and to create about two million new direct jobs in the Union by 2020.”
The unusually forthright speech from an EU Council president known for his measured and unassuming approach, was hailed as “a strong statement by a strong player” by one former EU energy policy architect.
“For economies looking for a way to break this cycle of unemployment, this is a good place to start,” Randall Bowie, now an energy efficiency consultant with home insulation company Rockwool, told EurActiv. “They have a big building stock that needs to be renovated, the financing is now there, it is just a question of getting it mobilised.”
Europe’s building stock accounts for around 40% of EU primary energy consumption, and energy efficient 'deep' renovations for them could cut energy consumption by up to three quarters and slash bills by the same amount.
Beyond the job creation benefits a move in this direction would bring, Renovate Europe estimates that Europe has no choice but to deeply renovate 3% of all its buildings every year if it is to meet its 2050 decarbonisation targets.
Where a standard refurbishment will harvest minimum energy savings of between 20%-30%, a deep renovation using state of the art technologies can reduce a building’s energy consumption by up to 75%.
Watered down directive
Europe’s existing refurbishment rates are only running at around 1% a year and, despite pushes from European politicians, member states watered down the ambition of the Energy Efficiency Directive.
As a result of loopholes inserted during negotiations, a target 3% rate for public building renovations in each EU state was weakened to the point where it would affect as little as 12 buildings a year in some countries.
That is a long way from the – once influential – vision of the Green New Deal Group, launched in the wake of the 2008 economic crash by the Guardian’s economic editor Larry Elliott, the economist Ann Pettifor, the green MP Caroline Lucas and the tax expert Richard Murphy.
It called for a massive job-creating public works investment in energy efficient retrofits for homes similar to US President Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in the 1930’s.
After a brief flurry of interest from the then-UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the UN Environment Programme though, the idea of austerity as an answer to economic malaise quickly gained ascendancy.
Green light at the end of the tunnel
But energy efficiency advocates finally see some green light at the end of the tunnel in the EU’s 2014-2020 budget, the multi-annual financial framework (MFF), which will more than double the amount of funding available for energy efficiency in buildings to around €23 billion.
It will be voted on in a European Parliament plenary session between 21-24 October.
Adrian Joyce, the secretary-general of EuroACE and director of Renovate Europe, said that the increased funding promise offered “an unprecedented window of opportunity” for Europe’s national and regional authorities to bridge the gap between potential and actual savings.
“Upfront finance remains the biggest obstacle to tap into the huge economic, environmental and societal benefits from deep energy efficient renovations,” he said. “This increased EU funding really has the potential to kick-start cost-savings from the renovation market.”
The new funding will be available from three sources: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund.
In the ERDF, a maximum limit of 4% on energy efficiency investment in buildings has been replaced by an obligatory minimum investment in sustainable energy, including energy efficiency. This would vary from 12-20% depending on how developed the region is.
Daiva Matoniene, the deputy environment minister of Lithuania, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said that the onus was now on each member state to design ambitious building renovation roadmaps, as required under the Energy Efficiency Directive.
She said: “The deep renovation of the building stock in Lithuania is a top priority in our country, not only because of the huge energy savings potential, but also for the positive impact on people’s health, on the country’s energy independence, and on the state’s public finances”.