EuroAce: Energy Union should push EU efficiency laws

Céline Carré [EuroAce]

This article is part of our special report An efficient energy union.

SPECIAL REPORT / The recognition in the Energy Union of the importance of improving energy efficiency in the EU’s building stock is welcome. But unless existing measures are properly implemented by national governments, the multiple benefits of renovation will not be exploited to the full, Céline Carré told EURACTIV.

Céline Carré is vice-president of EuroAce, the Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings. She spoke to deputy news editor James Crisp.

What does EuroAce think of the Energy Union communication?

For EuroAce, it is a good first step forward. The wording on energy efficiency reflects what we’ve been calling for. The concept is there and that has been shown by [Energy and Climate Action] Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete’s words afterwards.

We’ve been calling for energy efficiency to be treated as a source of energy in its own right, and that is the direction the Energy Union is going towards.

You were pushing for the executive to include the words “efficiency first” in the final document. Instead, it says member states should give energy efficiency “primary consideration” in their national policies.

That’s part of the picture of what we were calling for. But the question is now how this will be implemented. How are we going to bring this concept to life? How do you ensure that energy efficiency can compete with capacity?

We are also calling for the prioritisation of buildings, compared to what we have on table on the 2030 targets. There is a legally-binding 40% reduction target for greenhouse gases, but non-legally binding national targets of 27% for renewables and 27% for energy efficiency, the latter being coupled with the request from the member states to the Commission to work on priority sectors.

We welcome the recognition of the need to do something on buildings and the multiple benefits of doing so. There is enormous wastage in buildings not performing efficiently.

There’s a good level of consideration at which level things can change. I agree this will be at national, regional, and local level.

And there’s recognition of the need to do work on finance and to come up with good models, for example an “off-the-shelf financing template”, the Smart Financing for Smart Buildings” initiative for building renovation.

The important thing is that buildings are looked at first, and given priority. That applies to public, residential and commercial buildings, although different strategies are needed for each segment of the building stock.

That will take money…

This should be considered alongside the Juncker investment plan. What sort of governance matrix and criteria for assessing different projects will there be? The criteria should reflect the importance of energy efficiency in building, so they can be funded by the package.

Let me give you a very concrete example: the time it takes to get a project running and implemented. It’s usual with infrastructure to take a long time, 13-15 years.

By contrast, building renovation projects can be deployed more quickly, in less than two to three years, with immediate benefits for both society and individuals.

The construction sector in Europe is only just recovering. So now it’s a good time to give that sector a boost in job creation.

But how can this be delivered? Presumably there needs to some governance, and behind that, some teeth.

That’s a missing element. It’s all very nice to say things will happen at national, regional and local level. Yet we are still looking for encouragement and a clear vision at EU level on what the building sector should deliver.

What’s missing in the Energy Union communication is the link to Article 4 of the Energy Efficiency Directive. That is a missed opportunity.

[The European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive in late 2012 was expected to trigger the largest revamp of Europe’s existing building stock to date. Under article 4 of the directive, countries are obliged to publish national renovation strategies.  Some member states are not complying with the directive’s requirements.]

Under Article 4, countries are obliged to publish national renovation strategies. The plans are needed to drive investment in renovation and to provide visibility to all actors.

Some member states have taken the opportunity to publish their strategies, to show where they want their building stock to aim for, but most have not seized that opportunity. And some of member states have published their strategies, but did not properly consult with stakeholders.

Boosting building renovation faces multiple barrier issues so it needs multiple solutions, which require good coordination to move things forward. So you need to coordinate national renovation strategies.

What can policymakers do to remedy that?

Thanks to all of the available modern technologies, buildings’ energy demands can be cut by 80%. But in order for that to happen, there needs to be an effective regulatory and legislative framework in place.

The second version of the renovation roadmap is due in 2017. We would like a more ambitious vision with proper consultation with stakeholders.

There’s a lot to be done in existing EU legislation but implementation has been poor. If it was implemented properly, we would have been in a much better starting place.

On renovation in general, and in particular on long term strategies, there has to be more exchange of best practices, understanding which conditions are prevailing in different areas or countries, and which success factors make renovation policies work.

Policymakers need to identify what makes implementation of building legislation stable over time, and make that more visible to all the actors involved.

One of the big challenges is that building renovation is dependent on what each new national government scheme wants to do. Each scheme will have its goals or policy instruments, where more consistency is needed.

In the absence of long term goals for renovation, there is often not enough consensus through the different majorities. There has to be more stability and more vision. As a result, national government schemes are not consistent enough to drive change over time. You need to know that the priority level for efficiency is going to stay in place for investor certainty and to engage people.

New EU legislation needs to be encouraged and the review and implementation of the Energy Efficiency Directive will be very important when it comes to our existing buildings.

Do EU policymakers consider the building stock as infrastructure?

This depends what you call infrastructure. There is understanding that we need to more towards more an efficient energy system, and that buildings have to be part of it. Energy efficiency in buildings should be placed on an equal footing with other projects.

But whether it is classified as infrastructure could have an impact on investment. Infrastructure, as a long term investment, is expected to benefit from a more favourable regulatory treatment to incentive private backing of the projects…

Quite likely. We’ve been trying to draw parallels to the UK, where energy efficiency in buildings is being increasingly considered part of the infrastructure debate.

There is now a much better understanding of the multiple benefits of energy efficiency, thanks to numerous studies among which those by Renovate Europe, the International Energy Agency and others.

What’s clear is that energy efficiency’s benefits exceed just the energy savings themselves. But the link has to be made operational between the multiple benefits that building renovation brings and to other projects, such as the Energy Union and the Juncker Plan.

How is this going to be paid for?

It will be a combination of public money and private investors. We hear everywhere that the money is there.

The greater the visibility on what works, and the long-term goals in terms of efficiency, the more likely it will be that private investors will be willing to engage.

That’s somewhere where the European Commission can play a central role, especially in terms of buildings. Because we are not there yet.

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