EU deal on ‘nearly zero energy buildings’ by 2050

A central part of the deal relates to long-term renovation strategies, with EU countries required to set milestones for 2030 and 2040. [CAN Europe / Flickr]

European Union lawmakers reached a tentative agreement on Tuesday (19 December) on some key parts of a draft law that will facilitate the renovation of Europe’s existing building stock, with the aim of reaching nearly zero energy buildings by 2050, EU sources said.

The deal was struck during negotiations over the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), a key piece of legislation that is part of a wider package of clean energy laws tabled by the European Commission last year.

The talks in Brussels were still going on at the time this article was published but negotiators were now increasingly confident about the chances of concluding before the end of the day.

A central part of the deal relates to long-term renovation strategies, an issue that had blocked an agreement during previous rounds of talks between the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, representing the 28 EU member states.

Around lunchtime, both sides agreed on wording that negotiators said will facilitate the transformation of existing buildings into nearly zero energy buildings by 2050.

“This means that efforts on existing buildings currently responsible for 40% of energy consumption have to be drastically stepped up so that buildings become more efficient and the sector is decarbonised,” said a Parliament source involved in the negotiations.

Targets and actual policies for how to get there will be decided by national governments, with the aim of reaching a highly efficient building stock by 2050.

EU countries have to set 2030 and 2040 milestones and define “measurable progress indicators,” such as renovation rates or a maximum energy consumption per square meter, for example. However, all of those are “entirely up to member states”, which gives national governments sufficient wiggle room.

“It’s not an obligation to have renovation rates as such but an obligation on member states to set some indicators to measure progress and set milestones” along the way to 2050, the source explained.

‘Committed’ Canete ups pressure on EU buildings law

The EU Commissioner in charge of climate action, Miguel Arias Cañete, will personally attend three-way talks taking place Tuesday (5 December) on the recast energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), in a sign of the rising political profile taken by energy saving policies in Brussels.

Charging points for electric cars

Another key part of the deal relates to recharging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Under the draft agreement, new buildings with more than 10 parking places will need to be equipped with at least 20% pre-cabling or pre-tubing and at least one charging station. This will apply to non-residential buildings that are either new or undergoing major renovation.

The Parliament “was more focused on the basic infrastructure” than the Commission’s initial proposal, which focused on the recharging point, explained a Parliament source.

If confirmed, the deal would represent an important success for Estonia, the current holder of the six-month rotating EU Presidency. It had to call off negotiations two weeks ago after a late night session described as a “trench war” by one official.

Estonia calls off ‘trench war’ talks on EU building law

EU Presidency holder Estonia called off negotiations over the recast energy performance of buildings directive on Tuesday (5 December) after a late night session described as a “trench war” by one official.

Sticking points

Major sticking points still had to be cleared in the afternoon, including provisions related to building inspections, databases and energy performance certificates, sources said. But the general mood was generally upbeat.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, we have some tough topics still to come,” said Annikky Lamp, a spokesperson for the Estonian presidency, which steers negotiations on behalf of the 28 EU countries.

The breakthrough on long-term renovation strategies came after negotiations had gone off to a bad start. Earlier in the day, Parliament sources told EURACTIV they had received the latest compromise proposal from the Estonian presidency at 4pm the day before, leaving them little time to analyse the text.

Florent Marcellesi, a Green MEP who is shadow rapporteur on the EPBD, took to Twitter to warn that no agreement was preferable to a bad deal.

Worse, the latest compromise text had re-opened issues that were closed during earlier rounds of negotiations. This included notably a proposed “discount rate” for energy coming from renewable sources that was heavily criticised by efficiency campaigners.

The proposed discount rate, included in the directive’s annex, would essentially allow buildings powered by renewable energy to be classed as more energy efficient than others, even when they are poorly insulated and waste huge amounts of heat.

“This would be totally misleading, encouraging consumers to rent wasteful buildings under the illusion that they are energy efficient,” wrote the WWF in its energy efficiency blog.

The discount rate was one of the last hurdles still standing in the way of an overall deal on the EPBD by the time this article was published.

Renewables loophole threatens to dilute EU buildings law objectives

An oversight in the revised text of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) risks undermining the European Commission’s promise to place “efficiency first” across all EU energy legislation ahead of a defining vote in Parliament this week.