Energy performance certificates (EPCs) for buildings are sometimes so inaccurate that they can even become a hindrance to the EU’s climate goals, industry says. The upcoming revision of the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive could offer a way out.
EPCs are an important source of information for consumers planning to purchase or rent a property: they label buildings on a scale from A to G and provide recommendations for cost-effective improvements.
The EU energy performance label must be included in all advertisements in commercial media when a building is put up for sale or rent. It must also be shown to prospective tenants or buyers when a building is constructed, sold or rented, writes the European Commission.
A UK EPC study found that “multiple assessors evaluating the same property can produce quite markedly different results.”
Results can also differ across regions in the same country. “A house in Brussels graded G on the energy efficiency scale could receive an F, E or even D in Flanders,” says Andreas Graf, project manager for EU energy policy at think-tank Agora Energiewende.
“We fundamentally see it as a market failure,” said Barry Lynham, managing director at Knauf Energy Solutions, a service provider in the market.
“The experience in the market is that EPCs can actually be worse than not having them to a certain extent because they’re so inaccurate,” he explained. “This can actually create a certain lack of trust in whether things are being done correctly”.
The lack of trust in EPCs also means that energy labels have little impact on the price of properties, Lynham continued.
Instead of paying a premium for more energy efficient properties based on their EPC score, consumers tend to ignore the grade. “Lack of information on the buyer’s side results in loss of trust and a race to the bottom,” he said.
Lack of trust in EPCs may also be a roadblock when it comes to choosing clean heating solutions. The vast majority of homes are currently running on heavily-polluting oil or gas boilers and EPCs are not helping buyers choose renewable solutions like heat pumps running on electricity, experts say.
“Where EPC ratings are based on the assumed energy bill for a property, they can be a blockage to switching away from fossil heating,” says Jan Rosenow, from the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), a think-tank.
The problem here lies with how EPCs deal with electricity consumption. Since heat pumps run on electricity, they tend to score negatively in the EPC scorecard even though they are fully renewable and more efficient than gas boilers.
“Clean heating technologies such as heat pumps often attract higher running costs which in turn have a negative impact on EPC ratings,” Rosenow told EURACTIV.
The advantages of EPCs
Despite their shortcomings, EPCs have an essential role to play in helping Europe meet its climate targets and are still seen as an important source of information for the housing market.
“We mustn’t forget the value of the EPC,” said Louise Sunderland, senior advisor at RAP. “In Europe we have spent almost 20 years developing and rolling out EPCs and in some countries they offer the main source of stock data,” she told EURACTIV.
Aside from data, EPCs also help building renovation because they come with suggestions for improvements like changing windows, wall insulation or replacing boilers.
“The energy efficiency improvement recommendations that come with an EPC are a helpful tool for property owners to have a perspective for works that need to be done,” noted Graf.
Issues surrounding EPCs are long-standing, and the European Commission appears set to tackle EPCs in its upcoming proposal for a revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).
“I expect the upcoming revision of the Energy Performance of Building Directive to also include some changes to EPCs, although it is yet unclear what the Commission has planned,” noted Graf.
According to the Commission, a “central part of the revision is an update of the framework for EPCs with a view to increasing their quality and availability”. This includes “greater harmonisation, the inclusion of additional information and more stringent provisions on availability and accessibility of databases,” the EU executive wrote in a preliminary assessment posted on its website.
The industry, for its part, is hoping that smart connected sensors will be included in the revision to promote digital solutions such as electricity meters, gas meters, heat meters and smart thermostats connected via the internet of things.
“What we are asking for is to make the Buildings Directive open to allowing member states to use these technologies,” Lynham said.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]