An ambitious EPBD revision: Good for households and for industry

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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As stated by Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission, the Renovation Wave will improve the places where we work, live and study, while reducing our impact on the environment and supplying jobs for thousands of Europeans.

In the current context of soaring energy prices, it is also a structural way to address energy poverty by prioritizing the worst-performing buildings.

The revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will be an essential contribution to this strategy. While the Commission plans to publish its proposal in December, five months after the Fit for 55 package, the central role of the EPBD for the energy transition should not be neglected.

An ambitious renovation wave should put building users at the centre to offer comfortable and healthy buildings for all and limit their exposure to rising energy prices. Buildings must be energy efficient, and citizens must be empowered to produce and store energy and to contribute to demand side flexibility.

This is not only essential for households, but also for energy-intensive industries that require an efficient infrastructure and the availability of affordable carbon-free electricity. As the EU Sustainable Energy Week emphasizes, reshaping the European energy system is necessary to achieve our climate goals.

Buildings: A priority with available solutions to decarbonization

Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of the EU’s energy consumption, and 36 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. With at least 75 percent of building stock being inefficient, the untapped potential of this sector remains huge.

We cannot look at incremental efficiency improvement anymore but need to consider how to achieve a fully decarbonized built environment.

This requires a combination of energy-efficiency measures (such as insulation or heat recovery), the deployment of on-site renewable (such as PV) and energy storage (thermal or electrical), and smart and decarbonized technologies. Like in many sectors, electrification will play a key role.

Space heating is the main energy usage in buildings, and heat pumps are the most efficient way to produce heat from green electricity. Renewable heat can also come from solar thermal and district heating.

When available, district heating is an excellent solution and can be upgraded to combine different sources of energy—excess heat from industry, solar thermal collectors, heat recovery from other sources—and to provide thermal storage capacity.

The deployment of large scale heat pumps on district heating can provide an excellent link with the renewable electricity sector and contribute to demand side flexibility thanks to substantial heat storage capacity.

When district heating is not available, thermal storage within housings is an excellent way to combine systems such as solar collectors and heat pumps while ensuring flexibility between demand and supply. Increases in electrical storage are inevitable, both via standalone batteries and via electric vehicles connected to smart chargers.

As 80 to 95 percent of charging is done at home, buildings will play a critical role in deploying infrastructure to electrify transport, and this infrastructure will help buildings better manage energy. Smart charging and smart systems will allow to overcome capacity issues and to redistribute loads over time.

Finally, local production of renewable electricity—mainly via photovoltaic systems—will also rely on buildings.

Buildings: Key to decarbonized industry

Once large energy consumers, buildings of the future will be transformed into efficient energy hubs, taking an active role in the energy system by integrating production, storage and flexibility.

If the right system and pricing policy is applied, this integration of production, storage and flexibility will be beneficial for the consumer who will be able to reduce his consumption cost and be empowered to become a prosumer.

It will also be beneficial for energy infrastructure and other consumers such as energy-intensive industries. Indeed, electrification of industry is a primary driver of decarbonization and requires high availability of carbon-free electricity. A competition between industry and consumer for access to carbon-free energy should be avoided.

A highly efficient building stock, producing and storing renewable energy and contributing to demand side flexibility is, therefore, good for households and industry.

The Commission’s toolbox to tackle rising energy prices encourages investment in renewables, renovations, energy efficiency and storage capacity. Accelerating efforts to achieve deep renovation can deliver on all these elements.

Everyone should be looking for an ambitious EPBD proposal in December, fit for 55.

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