EU launches ‘renovation wave’ for greener, more stylish buildings

“The New European Bauhaus movement is intended to be a bridge between the world of science and technology and the world of art and culture,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “It is about a new European Green Deal aesthetic combining good design with sustainability.” [Cinematographer / Shutterstock]

The European Commission launched a renovation wave and a “new European Bauhaus” on Wednesday (14 October), aiming to rally popular support behind plans to cut emissions from buildings and reduce energy bills.

Three-quarters of Europe’s buildings are energy inefficient by modern standards and many are heated using fossil fuels. They are responsible for more than a third of EU carbon dioxide emissions and making them more efficient is a key part of the EU’s plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The Commission plans to double the EU’s annual rate of energy-related building renovations, which is currently just 1%, upgrading 35 million buildings by 2030.

“It’s not easy. It’s not just throwing money at it, we need to get the right regulation in place,” Frans Timmermans, Commission executive vice president for the European Green Deal, said on Wednesday.

Funding should prioritise renovations that tackle energy poverty to support the 34 million Europeans struggling to pay heating bills, the Commission said. Other focus areas are public buildings and polluting heating systems.

Upgrading social housing alone would require an extra €57 billion in annual investment, and EU support will come from a €672.5 billion section of its massive coronavirus economic recovery fund.

Further cash could come from carbon market revenues, while the European Investment Bank will back technical support for projects. The Commission will also rewrite state aid rules, allowing governments to boost national funding.

Central to the EU plan will be binding minimum energy performance standards for all existing buildings in Europe. The Commission will propose the standards next year, outlining the date for them to be introduced and the level of energy savings each building must achieve.

This would push building owners, such as commercial landlords, to meet the standard in order to rent a property.

“This sends a very strong regulatory signal to the market … Until you renovate to the minimum acceptable level which society demands, you can’t generate an economic return,” said Peter Sweatman, chief executive of consultancy at Climate Strategy & Partners.

Another aspect of the renovation wave is to support the creation of zero-energy districts or neighbourhoods where consumers integrate small-scale renewable and digital solutions enabling them to sell energy back to the grid.

Dublin MEP pushes 'neighbourhood' approach to building renovation

Ciarán Cuffe, a former Irish minister now turned MEP, has urged the European Commission to take a locally integrated approach to building efficiency, saying it will be “critical” to the success of the upcoming renovation wave announced as part of the European Green Deal.

But the renovation wave is not only about cutting emissions and reducing energy poverty, said European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen.

“Our European Green Deal is bigger. It is a systemic change,” von der Leyen said in a video address marking the launch of the “New European Bauhaus”.

“The New European Bauhaus movement is intended to be a bridge between the world of science and technology and the world of art and culture,” von der Leyen said. “It is about a new European Green Deal aesthetic combining good design with sustainability.”

The new European Bauhaus will be a space where architects, artists, digital experts, students and entrepreneurs will create designs for the buildings of tomorrow, von der Leyen explained.

The initiative will start in 2022 with the launch of five projects across EU member states, covering aspects such as natural building materials, energy efficiency, future-oriented mobility or digital innovation to make buildings more resource efficient.

(Edited by Kira Taylor)

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