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Distrust of construction industry could put EU building renovations ‘at risk’

75% of Europe's buildings are energy inefficient. [William Murphy/Flickr]

European Union plans to spur building renovation risk being hindered by distrust in the construction industry, a conference on the bloc’s flagship energy strategy heard last Wednesday (8 February) in Brussels.

Energy Union is the EU’s plan to lessen its dependence on imports and fight climate change.  The European Commission has identified energy efficiency, and the renovation of Europe’s highly inefficient building stock, as priorities.

The Commission contends that increasing the EU’s annual renovation rate of just 1% a year is vital for reducing emissions and imports. It can also increase health and comfort, fight energy poverty and give Europe’s economy a much-needed boost by creating construction jobs, according to the executive.

According to Maroš Šefčovič, Energy Union chief and Commission Vice-President, 40% of Europe’s energy consumption goes to heating and cooling buildings— and two-thirds of EU’s building were constructed before energy standards existed.

“It’s about modernising and energising Europe, all we want to achieve is to make Europe the best place to live in,” Šefčovič said at the conference.

Energy Union is about re-inventing our economy

The European Commission’s Winter Package of Energy Union laws will be a turning point for clean energy, writes Maroš Šefčovič. But the spirit of the package goes further than clean energy or tackling climate change – it’s also about economic transformation, he argues.

EU officials released the “Clean Energy for all Europeans” package in November 2016, including revisions to the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

But European distrust in the construction industry is hindering progress, Building Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) executive director Oliver Rapf said at the debate on 8 February.

“Obviously we are not seeing the progress we need,” Rapf said in regards to meeting the needs of European people who are living in inefficient buildings.

Pascal Eveillard, president of European Insulation Manufacturers Association (Eurima), stressed that persuading people to renovate their homes or buildings will only be successful if they are specifically targeted based on their economic status.

“You have people that have no money and people who have some money, you see lots of spending for kitchen and bathrooms, so I think it’s a question of targeting right people,” Eveillard said.

We are not the weak link in proposing insulation product or good renovation,” said Riccardo Viaggi, secretary-general of the European Builders Confederation.

“We create market leads, when we are contacted by a customer who may want a new kitchen, we suggest that they also look at other options to improve energy efficiency and comfort. 

“People want a nice kitchen but they won’t necessarily have 20,000 to do it to have that and improve energy efficiency. We need to change that and give them financial resources to do both.”

“Let’s not deny that renovation is messy— it involves a lot of technology, a lot of people, a lot of decision making,” added Brian Motherway, head of the energy efficiency division for IEA.

Adrian Joyce, secretary general of EuroACE, said that introducing mandatory trigger points, such as new leasing or renting of the building, supported by well thought-out financing instruments that give better conditions to those that undertake action on their buildings could be an incentive.

“A good way to motivate people is to show them how to start with low-cost investments that pay back quickly, such as the optimisation of their heating system,” Susanne Tull, EU Public Affairs Officer at Danfoss, added.

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“A great example of how to do it is the Better Homes project in Denmark,” Tull said. “The project sends an expert to analyse your home and make a proposal on how to renovate it, adapted to the occupant’s needs. If we make renovation that simple, we can activate the renovation market immediately.”

Jernej Vernik, Head of VELUX EU representative office, noted that “It is important to put ‘pure’ energy efficiency objectives on equal footing with the indoor comfort and well-being in our buildings.”

Jobs

Šefčovič said that 900,000 jobs could be created through unleashing the potential of energy efficient building renovation.

The EU will only be able to meet its Paris Agreement climate change commitments if carbon intensive industries such as coal power staions are closed.

Asked if the renovation revolution could replace lost carbon-intensive jobs, Šefčovič said,We should try very hard to make sure the people don’t think we’re forgetting them.”

He added that the educational system should alter its career focus to give future workers the skills required to succeed in energy efficient jobs.

The EU has a draft energy efficiency goal of 30% by 2030, compared to levels in 1990.

This goal has not been agreed on by the European Parliament, which wants 40%. Member states previously called for 27%.

Both the Council and Parliament must agree to identical text before it can become a law.

I’m not worried at all, in 2030 we will cross the line together,” Bendt Bendsten, EPBD the lead MEP on the bill, said.

The legislation required to enforce the progress of creating energy efficient buildings needs to be carefully thought out, according to deputy permanent representative of Malta and current president of the Council of the EU Neil Kerr.

“We need to ensure member states don’t rush and negatively impact the quality of their legislation,” Kerr said.

“We are going to try as much as possible to engage with the European Parliament,” he added.

The council wants a general approach set for both directives before the end of the six-month presidency in July— it will form the basis of negotiations with Parliament.

Bendsten said  that he was not concerned about Europe’s ability to reach the goals the Energy Union has presented.

He added that the goals could be reached years earlier “if we use the tools in our toolbox”.

One of those tools is the EPBD.

I’m a strong supporter of green energy. In my mind, it is a crucial point to get right in the position of the directive. We must get more money from the private funding,” Bendsten said.

Energy renovation can generate job growth, so lets get it right.”

Positions

EuroACE agrees with the Commission recommendations, recalling that energy efficiency, especially in buildings, is a huge opportunity for both individual well-being and economic long-term benefit. To make it happen, industry calls on the European Parliament and the Council to go further than the Commission proposal on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), published last November, as it only makes limited improvements to the Directive. EuroACE calls on the co-legislators to adopt a clearer and stronger 2050 perspective.

Background

An efficient energy union

Efficiency will be an important part of the EU's Energy Union plan to strengthen the bloc's resistance to shortages, but it faces competition from other policy streams for lawmakers' attention.

 

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