LEAK: Draft EU law introduces new standards to decarbonise buildings by 2050

The revision of the energy performance of buildings directive aims to decarbonise Europe's inefficient building stock [Pompaem Gogh / Shutterstock]

A draft EU directive, due for publication on 14 December, introduces minimum energy performance standards for existing buildings undergoing major renovation works as part of a renewed push to achieve a zero-emission building stock by 2050.

Around three-quarters of buildings in Europe are energy inefficient. EU buildings are responsible for around 40% of the bloc’s energy consumption and 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions.

Because of this, the European Union has embarked on a huge renovation effort in order to reach its legally-binding objective of cutting emissions down to net-zero by 2050.

The draft energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), seen by EURACTIV, requires that all new structures erected as of 2030 must be zero-emission.

For existing buildings, which form the bulk of Europe’s housing stock, EU countries will have to ensure minimum energy performance standards are applied when they undergo major renovation.

“By [2035], the entire national building stock shall be covered by minimum energy performance standards,” says the draft, which is still subject to change.

Renovation action plans

Under the legislation, the unsuccessful long-term renovation strategies introduced in the 2018 revision of the EPBD will be scrapped and replaced by renovation action plans.

According to the draft, “each Member State shall establish a building renovation action plan to promote the renovation of the national stock of residential and non-residential buildings, both public and private, into a highly energy efficient and decarbonised building stock by 2050, with the objective to transform existing buildings into zero-emission buildings.”

The plans will need to be submitted to the European Commission for approval “by 1 January 2025 and subsequently every five years thereafter”.

The plans are stronger than their predecessors because they include details on essential points like workforce training and ‘one-stop shops’ to help people apply for financing, said Brook Riley from Rockwool, a manufacturer of mineral wool products used in building insulation.

The European Commission has signalled that these plans will be linked to EU funding, which would further strengthen them, Riley said.

Action plans will include an overview of the national building stock, the annual energy renovation rate and the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of buildings as well as identifying the worst-performing buildings and barriers to renovation.

They will need to include “a roadmap with domestically established targets and measurable progress indicators [for different building types], with a view to the 2050 climate neutrality goal”.

That includes national targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050 on the expected share of renovated buildings, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings as well as an overview of the policies and measures needed to support these.

Policies will include “the creation of one-stop-shops or similar mechanisms for the provision of technical, administrative and financial advice and assistance” as well as on alleviating energy poverty.

There is also a push to decrease Europe’s reliance on fossil fuel, with a ban on EU countries providing financial incentives for fossil fuel boilers.

EU energy ministers support doubling renovation rates by 2030

Europe’s 27 energy ministers on Friday (11 June) backed calls to double Europe’s building renovation rates by 2030 in order to repair their crisis-hit economies, tackle energy poverty and “create green buildings for the future”.

Minimum energy performance standards

According to Riley, the introduction of minimum energy performance standards is the linchpin of the draft new directive.

“That’s a big step forward. This is doing to existing buildings what the Commission did for new buildings ten years ago when they said that, by 2021, all new buildings have to be nearly zero energy,” said Riley.

From January 2030, all new builds will need to be zero-emission buildings, defined as “a building that has a very high energy performance” with the very low amount of energy still required fully covered by energy from renewable sources produced on-site.

From January 2027, all new buildings occupied or owned by public authorities will need to be zero-emission.

Existing buildings will also need to meet performance standards “so far as this is technically, functionally and economically feasible” when they undergo major renovation. This is when the total cost of the renovation is more than a quarter of the building’s value.

Alongside this, buildings sold or rented will need to reach class E for a transaction to take place after January 2027 and class C by January 2033.

However, there is still work to be done on performance standards, according to Oliver Rapf from the Buildings Performance Institute Europe.

“The introduction of minimum energy performance standards is limited to some selected trigger points which risks that many buildings will be left behind and won’t get a deep renovation,” he told EURACTIV.

The draft text is also unclear about whether these standards will cover commercial buildings or not.

“The leaked EPBD proposal indicates a comprehensive revision but the devil is in the detail. It contains a much too weak definition for deep renovation, referencing a threshold of 30% energy savings, which will be insufficient to achieve the 2030 climate goal,” he said.

The leaked EPBD draft also introduces a “renovation passport” for homeowners to keep track of works already performed and those that are still needed before the building can be considered zero-emission.

The renovation passport is meant to help homeowners stagger renovation works over several years as a way of spreading the cost. However, critics say this would also increase the hassle of renovating and split renovations over multiple occasions.

A piecemeal approach on energy standards for buildings won’t work

Decarbonising Europe’s building stock requires robust Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), not a piecemeal approach that fails to regulate buildings that are ripe for renovation projects, writes Adrian Joyce.

Energy poverty

Tackling Europe’s inefficient building stock is not just needed for Europe to reach its climate goals, it is also essential to tackle social inequality.

According to the European Commission, there are 31 million Europeans living in energy poverty and unable to adequately heat their homes.

To address this, the draft EPBD proposes targeting financial incentives “as a priority [to] vulnerable customers, people affected by energy poverty and people living in social housing”.

These would be based on a common definition of energy poverty taking into account four factors: 1) the “percentage of people affected by energy poverty”; 2) the “proportion of disposable household income spent on energy”, 3) the “population living in inadequate dwelling conditions (e.g. leaking roof) or with inadequate heating and cooling”; and 4) the “percentage of buildings in lowest energy classes”.

This is seen as a big step forward because energy poverty until now was not defined in a standardised way at EU level, leading to diverging national policies to address the problem.

There are concerns, however, that minimum energy performance standards could make renovation unaffordable for many homeowners who are already struggling to make ends meet.

To tackle this, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless has said that there needs to be support programmes to protect the most vulnerable and a definition of what counts as worst-performing buildings – something that is currently missing in the draft.

> Read the full text of the EPBD draft below or download here:

EPBD draft legislative proposal_Articles and Annexes

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]



EU funded

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 893858.

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