Parliament calls for zero-energy buildings from 2019

The European Parliament yesterday (23 April) called for all new buildings to produce at least as much renewable energy as they consume by 2019.

EU co-legislators amended the Commission’s proposals for the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, in line with the Parliament’s industry committee’s suggestions last month (EURACTIV 01/04/09). 

They also called on member states to set percentages for a minimum share of existing buildings to be energy neutral in 2015 and 2020.

The Parliament supported a Commission proposal to lift the 1000 m2 threshold for subjecting existing buildings to minimum energy performance requirements (EURACTIV 14/11/08). 

Therefore, all buildings undergoing renovations which cost more than 25% of their value or cover over a quarter of its surface would have to meet national energy efficiency requirements.

Smart meters should be installed by default in all new buildings, as well as when renovating older ones, MEPs stated.

And they deleted a Commission proposal to exempt holiday homes which are used for less than four months a year from the rules.

New financing

The Parliament also urged the Commission to propose an array of new financial instruments to support efficiency improvements by 20 June 2010. 

According to the lawmakers, the EU should set up an ‘energy efficiency fund’ by 2014 and step up financing from regional development monies. They also floated the idea of reducing VAT rates for goods and services that reduce the energy consumption of buildings or increase the use of renewable energy.

‘Good day for energy efficiency’

The construction industry and green groups welcomed the results of the vote. 

EuroACE, the industry association representing energy-saving buildings, said the Parliament had sent a strong signal to member states to move swiftly on a final agreement, which it hoped would be achieved by the end of the year.

“This is a good day for energy efficiency,” Andrew Warren, a senior adviser at EuroACE, said after the vote. He added that backing from all the major parties, by a majority of ten-to-one, in favour of the new legislation was “a striking endorsement from the European Parliament”.

Eurima, representing insulation manufacturers, welcomed in particular the Parliament’s focus on improving education and training mechanisms throughout the building chain.

Indeed, knowledge gaps were identified as a key obstacle to better performing buildings by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which will launch the final report of its Energy Efficiency in Buildings project on Monday.

Constant Van Aerschot, co-chair of the project, said lack of knowledge posed a particular problem for people consulting architects, designers and engineers about retrofitting poorly-performing buildings. “There is a big knowledge gap by professionals. We did a worldwide survey, and found out that architects are not the best people to ask what to do, because they don’t necessarily have the right level of training.”

Van Aerschot argued, however, that the new legislation is not ambitious enough because it only properly addresses new buildings, which make up just 1% of buildings in Europe. “When you retrofit your building, you need to bring the building to a certain level of performance. But if they have to do this, people will not do it, because then they will have to invest more,” he said.

The conservation organisation WWF said the Parliament was on the right track by making zero-energy buildings the cornerstone of the revised directive. However, it had hoped for an earlier date than 2019.

“Technically and economically there is nothing standing in the way of an earlier deadline for all new constructions, which could help the EU achieve the 2020 emissions reduction targets,” said Arianna Vitali Roscini, a WWF policy officer.

EU member states will now start working to adopt a common position on the dossier. The Czech EU Presidency is planning to present a progress report in June, but the finalisation of the first-reading position will be left to Sweden, which takes over the EU’s six-month presidency in July.

MEP Silvia Ticau (PSE, Romania), the Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier, argued that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way of cutting CO2 emissions, creating jobs and addressing the social impacts of rising prices. "Previously, we have only had words supporting the need for greener buildings, now we have financial support, such as VAT reduction," she said.

MEP Ján Hudacký (EPP-ED, Slovakia) argued that in light of the amendments agreed yesterday, the revised directive would be cost-effective, benefiting both consumers and the economy. "Member states should financially stimulate efforts to energy savings as well as the use of renewable energy resources. They should support the investments in house insulation, the purchase of energy effective household appliances and technologies which will reduce the energy consumption in buildings," he said.

The European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE) commended the Parliament for concluding its first reading in a very short time period. "The European Parliament is to be congratulated for enabling the Swedish EU Presidency to now achieve its stated goal of getting full agreement on the proposal before the end of 2009," said Andrew Warren, a EuroACE senior advisor. 

The European Insulation Manufacturers Association (Eurima) stated that the adoption of the first-reading report was "not only ambitious but also very timely". "While most member states have already developed to varying degrees a functioning and ambitious regulatory framework, we now believe the EU will take the important step of adopting an ambitious EPBD recast before the end of 2009," EURIMA Director-General Jan te Bos said.

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) stated that it was unfortunate that the plenary vote had removed the industry committee's proposed obligation to consider the feasibility of renewable energy sources in new buildings after the directive's entry into force. 

"EREC now calls on the Council to keep this integrated approach based both on demand and supply-side measures to fully reap the benefits of sustainable buildings in terms of security of energy supply, competitiveness of our industries and sustainability," said EREC President Arthouros Zervos.

The Global Community for Sustainable Energy Professionals said the Parliament's proposal "addresses only a small percentage of buildings with a rather extreme solution". "A requirement to produce sufficient renewable energy on-site appears overly restrictive, and could inhibit the further development of the energy sector. It may result in an overly complex and expensive energy system too," it said, arguing that small-scale energy production on-site is not very cost-effective at the moment.

WWF congratulated MEPs for applying energy-efficiency standards to all major renovations, arguing this is relevant because a quarter of residential buildings in Europe were built already before 1945. 

"Promotion of energy efficiency is a winning strategy for Europe. It improves energy security, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, encourages technology development and creates new jobs. This is a structural change within reach, it is up to political will to make it happen," said Arianna Vitali Roscini, WWF policy officer for energy conservation in buildings.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) was adopted in 2002 to help the EU meet its climate commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. 

Buildings account for around a third of EU energy consumption, and therefore hold important potential for energy savings and related greenhouse-gas emission reductions.

As many member states failed to implement the legislation on time (EURACTIV 07/12/07), the Commission decided to propose a recast of the directive in November 2008 to tap into the potential for improvements (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Green buildings').

The Parliament's industry committee adopted a report on 31 March, which sought to amend the Commission's proposal by attaching a requirement that all new buildings would have to produce at least as much energy as they use by 2019 (EURACTIV 01/04/09).

The recast is a part of the EU's Second Strategic Energy Review, which seeks to address security of energy supply and set out policy priorities in the field of energy for the next European Commission. 

The EU executive argues that the revised directive will cut down EU energy use by 5-6%, achieving comparable CO2 savings by 2020.

  • June: Czech Presidency to present a progress report.
  • By end of 2009: Swedish Presidency planning to reach agreement on the proposal. 

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