Buildings renovation takes centre stage as debate heats up over energy efficiency targets for 2030

Green building low energy house.JPG

This article is part of our special report Building the way out of the crisis.

SPECIAL REPORT / With Europe’s hard-fought over Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) coming into force next year, advocates are pushing for the EU to come forward with a target for 2030, and adopt proposals to dramatically cut energy use in Europe’s building stock by 2050.

Campaigners are urging policymakers to act now and tackle the huge potential for energy savings in Europe’s building stock, which currently accounts for 40% of Europe’s final energy demand.

In the European Parliament, energy efficiency advocates are pushing for an ambitious 80% reduction in the consumption of energy in buildings by 2050, compared to 2010 levels. The own-initiative report on the European Commission’s Energy Roadmap 2050 was adopted by Parliament on 14 March 2013, after a vote in the industry committee on 24 January.

“There is no doubt about it – we urgently need to address the energy efficient renovation of the EU building stock. With poor performing buildings, we are not only wasting energy and money, but we are also missing out on a golden opportunity to deliver on the EU’s climate change, jobs, growth and energy security goals”, said British MEP Fiona Hall  MEP (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE), who is Shadow Rapporteur on the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee (ITRE).

“This ambitious yet achievable building renovation target, which received cross-party support in the ITRE Committee vote in January, is recognised as essential to provide market certainty needed in order to unleash investment in the building renovation sector”, claims Renovate Europe, a campaign group set up by EuroAce, the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings.

Member states progress to be evaluated in June 2014

The EED, approved by parliament in September 2012 after it became clear that the EU was not on track to meet its non-binding 20% energy savings target for 2020, does contain an obligation on member states to draw up a roadmap to make the entire buildings sector more energy efficient by 2050, but does not set a clear objective for the amount of energy to be reduced.

The EED also contains a binding measure for member states to renovate 3% of “centrally-owned and occupied” building stock per annum over the 2014-2020 period (starting with buildings with a useful area of 500m², extending to 250m² in July 2015).

This limited measure, only applying to buildings owned by the central governments, means that member states will probably need to do more on a voluntary basis to meet the 2020 target. A progress review by the European Commission is scheduled for June 2014, and will determine whether or not member states are on track to meet their targets.

“According to the information of the European Commission itself the Energy Efficiency Directive is not ambitious enough to guarantee the achievement of our 2020 target”, German MEP Peter Liese MEP (European People’s Party, EPP) told EURACTIV.

“That it is why we have a review clause. I hope the member states do as they promised on a voluntary base more than necessary under the directive. Otherwise we need to strengthen the directive”, said Liese, who sits on the Parliament’s Environment Committee.

Liese describes the EED’s obligation to renovate public buildings as “very limited”, and “a very bad compromise”.

‘It’s all about the implementation’

There are some countries that just don’t see the priority of energy efficiency and are a bit reluctant to take on board new obligations”, according to Dutch Bas Eickhout MEP (Greens).

“But what you also saw happening was that the countries in the north west of Europe, who are usually more ambitious on energy and environmental issues, are also more critical on whether Europe should do something about buildings, so it’s a competency issue. That combination made it difficult to get a deal”, Eickhout explains.

Fiona Hall MEP, who is championing an 80% energy savings target for buildings by 2050, told EURACTIV that the key question was not the targets themselves, but whether member states actually implement what they say they are going to do in their national action plans on buildings.

“Whether [the EED] delivers for buildings really depends on how well it is implemented. That’s the crucial thing”, Hall told EURACTIV.

“The first indications are reasonably positive, in that they [the Commission] have pretty well got all the member states targets in…It looked like at least the targets would add up to 20%, which is something”, said Hall.

“But is the plan good enough to deliver what the member states are setting as a target? Even more crucially, there’s the question of whether the member states are actually implementing the plan properly. It’s all about the implementation as to whether this works or not”, said Hall.

Looking at 2030

Critics of the EED argue that it could have gone further both in terms of the scope of renovation, and the type of renovation.

“The 3% renovation rate is not ambitious enough in terms of the type of renovation that public authorities are required to do, because this is in line with business-as-usual renovation, in line with the requirements already in the building codes of member states. We were arguing for much deeper renovation, to really reduce the energy consumption to the lowest level possible”, Arianna Vitali, Policy Officer for Energy Conservation at WWF told EURACTIV.

“The 3% is really a very low percentage, we were arguing for it to be extended to other buildings, to residential, commercial buildings…the 3% is not going to make a big difference”, adds Vitali.

Looking further ahead, a big issue for energy efficiency advocates is to build momentum behind a 2030 energy savings target, and to get it onto the political agenda sooner rather than later. They argue that meeting the ambitious 80% energy savings in buildings target proposed by the European Parliament will depend a great deal on whether Europe agrees an energy efficiency target for 2030, and whether that target is legally binding.

“I think it is very important to discuss the 2030 targets already now”, Peter Liese, a Christian Democrat MEP from Germany told EURACTIV.

“Unfortunately there is the position of some Commissioners and in some member states that we should have only CO2 targets for 2030. The European Parliament's Environment Committee almost unanimously supports that we should have three targets and all should be binding. However, the interaction of these targets should be improved and we should have as much flexibility as possible in how to implement the target”, says Liese.

Support building up for 2030 targets

There is support for an energy efficiency target from Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who re-iterated the need for triple targets for 2030 on emissions reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“I am very happy to see that the European Parliament and the Council agreed on the need to urgently define our climate and energy targets for 2030. They also recognise that 2030 targets are needed not only to prepare Europe for the international negotiations up to 2015, but also to give certainty to investors, Member States and industry for the investments needed in emissions reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energy”, said Hedegaard.

Hedegaard was speaking after an agreement struck on 19 June by the Council and the European Parliament on a new Environmental Action Programme to 2020. Proposed by the Commission in November 2012, the plan identifies nine priority objectives for the period up to 2020, including boosting sustainable, resource-efficient, low-carbon growth and helping EU cities become more sustainable.

“The debate is, after 2020, will Europe come forward with another energy efficiency target? And that is a key question”, agrees Bas Eickhout, a Greens MEP from the Netherlands.

“There is support for carbon reduction target, there is more support for a renewable target after 2020, but on efficiency, it is the least obvious one, which is very strange, because every scientist is saying this is the most cost-effective measure…the less energy you use, the less you have to replace…But if you look at the political priorities, efficiency is at the bottom”, Eickhout told EURACTIV.

There are suggestions that the Commission is using the June 2014 progress review as an excuse to put off discussion on 2030 energy efficiency targets.

“This evaluation is used by people, including the Commission and Commissioner Oettinger to postpone any decision on energy efficiency in the framework of a new energy and climate package for 2030”, Arianna Vitali from the WWF told EURACTIV.

“Oettinger said that before thinking of a 2030 target, we’ll have to see how the progress review goes in 2014. This assessment of process is misused to delay discussion on efficiency targets. The EED has a specific timeline to 2020, while the new climate and energy package will have a different time horizon, which is 2030. The two things need to go in parallel. If we don’t set the three targets at the same time, it will be another mistake”, argues Vitali.

Lithuania’s ambassador Arunas Vinciunas told EURACTIV that it was too soon to focus on 2030 energy efficiency targets so soon after the EED, and raised doubts as to whether the Commission was going to opt for a 2030 target.

“We have to focus first of all on the implementation of the EED and the targets”, Ambassador Vinciunas told EURACTIV.

“On the target for 2030 for energy efficiency, I really don’t know if the Commission will come up with something, they will come up with something on climate, but on energy efficiency, right now, this is a bit early after the Directive”, added Vinciunas, whose country will be taking over the Presidency of the Council on 1st July.

The European Union put down the last piece of the bloc's 2020 climate and energy policy puzzle by adopting an Energy Efficiency Directive in late 2012. 

The directive is a game-changer for energy companies, which are now required to achieve 1.5% energy savings every year among their final clients.

The EU law is also expected to trigger the largest revamp of Europe's existing building stock to date and set new standards for public procurement and energy audits.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Energy Efficiency Directive: Completing an energy policy puzzle

  • 9 Jan. 2013: Deadline for threshold raising energy performance certificate requirement on public buildings from 1,000m2, to 500m2
  • April 2013: Member states present their national programmes for the implementation of the Energy Efficiency Directive.
  • June 2014: European Commission to publish progress review on whether or not member states are on track to meet their targets under the EED
  • 9 July, 2015: Deadline for threshold raising energy performance requirement on public buildings to 250m2.
  • 2016: European Commission to review the Energy Efficiency Directive.
  • 1 Jan. 2019: Deadline for all new public buildings to become near-zero CO2 emitters
  • 1 Jan. 2021: Deadline for all new buildings to become near-zero carbon emitters

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