EU countries dragging their feet on building renovation plans

“The construction sector has always been a key driver of economic recovery and the renovation of Europe’s buildings will become even more important as part of response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Brook Riley, head of EU affairs at Rockwool, a world leader in building insulation materials. [Vincent WR / Flickr]

Only five EU member states have submitted long-term renovation strategies that were due last month under the revised energy performance of buildings directive: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands and Sweden.

EU countries had until 10 March to transpose the buildings directive, which was last updated in May 2018 as part of a package of clean energy laws.

The aim of the directive is to make the entire European building stock “highly energy efficient and decarbonised” so that emissions are brought down to near-zero by 2050.

EU deal sets off race to renovate Europe’s building stock

After a third round of talks, EU lawmakers reached an agreement Tuesday (19 December) on the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), firing the starting gun to renovate Europe’s entire building stock by 2050 so that it becomes “nearly zero emissions”.

But building renovation strategies have so far been largely ignored by member states, according to the European Commission. As of today, only five countries have handed in their strategy: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands and Sweden.

“Timely submission is of great importance,” an EU Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.

“In particular, the assessment of the long-term renovation strategies will add detail to the National Energy and Climate Plans which were expected by the Commission by 31 December 2019,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Member states are not only slow to adopt renovation plans, they are also dragging their feet when it comes to transposing the directive. By Wednesday (8 April), the Commission had received only 16 notifications of national transposition measures.

“The Commission is monitoring closely notifications and submissions on all fronts and remains in close dialogue with member states to ensure that they receive support if needed,” the spokesperson said.

Admittedly, the COVID-19 crisis is unlikely to speed up the process, even though building renovation is considered as a sure way of restarting the economy after the confinement measures are lifted.

“The construction sector has always been a key driver of economic recovery and the renovation of Europe’s buildings will become even more important as part of response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Brook Riley, head of EU affairs at Rockwool, a world leader in building insulation materials.

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Building renovation wave

Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s vice-president, announced a building ‘renovation wave’ as part of the European Green Deal presented in December.

He has since pledged to “work towards a green recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, heeding calls by EU leaders who asked the Commission to start preparing “a comprehensive recovery plan” that also integrates the green and digital transitions.

But judging by the current transposition of the buildings directive, the promised renovation wave still looks far from hitting Europe’s shores.

At the current renovation rate of 1% per year, it would take about a century to revamp all of Europe’s buildings, according to Commission projections.

Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner underlined earlier this year that a key component of the renovation wave would be to “triple the existing, insufficient, rate of renovations”.

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National strategies

Detailed measures to achieve higher renovation rates are expected to be laid out at national level.

Under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), countries are required to draw-up national long-term renovation strategies, to “support the renovation of their national building stock into a highly energy efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050.”

The strategies should set “indicative milestones” for 2030, 2040 and 2050, and define “measurable progress indicators”, such as renovation rates or caps on energy consumption per square floor meter.

And even though measures are left entirely to the discretion of national governments, some were explicitly promoted in the EPBD.

One example are building automation and control systems, which optimise the energy consumption of systems used for heating and cooling, ventilation, lighting, hot water and on-site electricity generation.

According to a study by Waide Strategic Efficiency, the deployment of control systems in commercial and residential buildings could save as much as 14% of total primary energy use by 2038.

Under the EPBD, these systems were made obligatory in all non-residential buildings above 290 kW rated output by 2025, “where technically and economically feasible”.

But only a few member states have transposed the measures properly, according to Simone Alessandri of EU.bac, the European Building Automation and Controls Association.

Most EU countries took a “copy-paste approach” to the articles in the directive, Alessandri explained, “without clearly identifying, framing and justifying” the parameters on which technical or economic feasibility should be assessed.

“With no compliance mechanisms, and exceptions that are left to the discretion of the assessor, the impact of these measures is strongly weakened,” Alessandri told EURACTIV.

As member states fall behind on the directive’s implementation deadline, some are calling on the Commission to raise its game.

“To reach the 2030 targets and carbon neutrality by 2050, we know that we need to make our buildings more energy efficient and smarter,” said Lars Tveen, President of Danfoss Heating. “With the revised EPBD we have the directive at hand to act on what is needed,” he said, referring to optimised heating and cooling systems.

“Now, we need a strong national implementation of the EPBD across all member states to ensure broad and fast deployment of available solutions,” he said.

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(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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