Energy efficient renovation: the way to get ‘Fit for 55’

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

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Renovation of the residential complex in Casalecchio Di Reno, Italy. [Knauf Insulation]

After months of talks and intense negotiations between Member States and the European Parliament, the European Union has agreed to cut its carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Vincent Briard is Group Sustainability Director at Knauf Insulation. Quentin Galland is Public Affairs Director at Knauf Insulation.

Now the hard work is underway to make this target a reality. And it is a lot of hard work. Many major EU laws on energy and climate are expected to undergo a revision process that will start this year.

In the words of Pascal Canfin, Renew Europe MEP, chair of the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Safety Committee, “We are going to do two and half times more in nine years than what we have done in the past 10 years in Europe.”

Where to start? Well, start with the energy with the lowest emissions — the energy you do not use.

Buildings use a lot of Europe’s energy (40%) and they emit a lot of Europe’s carbon (36%). It makes sense to deep renovate as many buildings as possible to make them highly energy efficient — plus, of course, renovation transforms living conditions for the vulnerable and creates new jobs for hundreds of thousands.

Increase efficiency ambition

So, let us make renovation a cornerstone of Europe’s sustainable future starting with the golden opportunity to revise the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) as part of ‘Fit for 55’ proposals. The directive sets a target of reducing the EU’s energy consumption by at least 32.5% by 2030 relative to ‘business as usual’ (based on 2007 modelling projections for 2030).

Increasing this target to 40% would put efficiency first and in turn energise Europe’s ‘Fit for 55’ climate ambition — particularly if it is complemented by a clear indication of the contribution expected from building renovation.

Next, the EED needs to broaden its ambition when it comes to the renovation of public buildings. The present directive only covers a limited number of public building. We believe that extending its scope, to cover all public buildings owned or used by central, regional and local authorities, would pave the way for significant positive change.

Focus on real performance

In addition, this revision must include a focus on measuring the real performance of energy savings achieved by renovation. Now thanks to technological advancements we can measure energy savings as well as energy produced. And this changes everything, as we do not only have rely on design performance.

The new ‘Fit for 55%’ legislative framework should embrace these innovations as they represent a transformational step forward for energy efficiency. The EU needs to create a new system based on real energy performance so that governments can move away from supporting renovation measures where the energy and emission savings delivered are largely unknown and focus on a system where they are 100% known.

Later this year, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will be revised. This will be another important opportunity to put a laser-sharp focus on real performance and renovation.

To make that happen, we propose the EU develops an EU-certification scheme for energy-efficiency meters so that all Member States have trust in the results recorded.

Real performance is a powerful tool that will support the creation of minimum energy performance standards for buildings and the introduction of a deep renovation standard. If we are to reduce building emissions at a scale that paves the way to successfully achieve a 55% carbon reduction, such standards are essential.

Knauf Insulation has cut emissions by -23%

Knauf Insulation has been in the building energy efficiency since the company started and we know it is not enough to deliver high quality products. It is vital that the work is carried out to a high standard and the results of any renovation are audited accurately. Regulation will help drive the transformational change needed to make this happen.

Ultimately, ‘at least 55%’ is an ambitious target. But if we want to genuinely tackle climate change and achieve a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 we all need to be ambitious. And that also means starting to tackle the embodied carbon in construction products.

At Knauf Insulation, we have cut our emissions by -23% since 2010 and last year as part of our sustainability strategy For A Better World, we committed to achieve zero carbon. In 2020, we have been implementing strategies with a view to further reducing the embodied carbon of our products by 15% by 2025.

We also plan to introduce an Eco-Design tool that will help better understanding of the environmental impact of construction products. It will be based on Environmental Product Declarations — transparent, third-party assessments of the environmental impact of a product over its lifecycle.

Maximising a historic year of climate action

We perfectly understand the need to tackle embodied carbon emissions. However, at a building level the sequencing must be right so that we address the emissions with the most impact first.

In a building constructed in 2010, for example, operational carbon (emissions from heating and cooling) would account for 75% while embodied carbon from construction and materials accounts for 25%. This means that, while addressing embodied carbon is important, we must — first and foremost — focus on energy performance, implementing the goals of the EU Renovation Wave and that means creating a more resilient building envelope.

Additionally, let us not forget that when installing insulation, double-glazing and more efficient energy sources, the impact of these elements during the use phase will be many hundreds of times higher than the embodied carbon generated during their manufacture.

As Europe prepares for a historic year of climate action, it is vital that energy efficiency — and building renovation — is put at the top of every policy agenda to ensure every Member State is ‘Fit for 55’.

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