Building renovation can cut energy use and boost jobs

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report Energy efficient buildings : Powering Europe.

With the right policy framework and action to reduce energy consumed by Europe's building stock, EU member countries can create jobs, save money, reduce levels of greenhouse gases and improve energy security,  argues Oliver Rapf.

Oliver Rapf is the executive director of Brussels-based think-tank Buildings Performance Institute Europe(BPIE).

"It is common knowledge in the energy and climate change community that there is enormous potential for reducing the energy consumed by Europe's building stock. With the right policy framework and action by member states, massive savings could be made of the order of 68-71% by 2050, according to the study 'Europe's Buildings under the Microscope' produced by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE).

Appropriate action would not only put money back in the pockets of Europe's citizens, but would also create much-needed jobs, reduce levels of dangerous greenhouse gases and improve energy security.

Although the benefits of increasing the energy performance of our buildings are today widely recognized, the governments of Europe have so far proved reluctant to launch programmes for the comprehensive renovation of buildings as the negotiations around the Energy Efficiency Directive illustrate. Yet, the best moment to start this journey is right now. Why?

Although the large majority of Europe's buildings have been erected since the 1960s, most of the buildings need considerable renovation to make them sustainable and future proof. Such a renovation effort will require high-quality craftsmanship and engineering.

But beyond this need for capacity building lays the overriding requirement for a common policy and incentives framework, which will encourage renovation on a broad scale.

Such a framework could be set out in national renovation plans, so-called 'roadmaps' which each member state would develop for their own building stock, and would be monitored on a Europe-wide basis. This has been suggested in the EU Parliament's proposal adopted by the ITRE Committee on 28 February 2012.

These plans – designed for the long run – would combine regulatory, financial, educational and promotional measures. They would address current market barriers as well as generate macro-economic benefits. Renovation roadmaps should take a holistic vision of the building sector and work towards specific targets such as a defined level of energy saving and renovation rates to be achieved within a defined period.

National roadmaps for renovating Europe's building stock would give long term certainty to the broad range of stakeholders active in the building sector, one of the largest economic sectors in Europe. They would trigger investment and innovation, leading to economic growth and jobs that remain in the EU – indeed, a building can only be renovated in the place where it is located.

These days, European governments are tending to take a short-term view whereas any systematic renovation of the building stock implies the opposite thinking. Their focus should perhaps switch from looking at the admittedly high-upfront investment for implementing national roadmaps, towards the high return on this investment and overall economic benefits.

Europe is already missing out on business opportunities in the clean tech sector and is lagging behind China and the US, as a recent report by WWF and Roland Berger Strategies highlighted. Europe's sales of highly efficient and renewable energy technologies shrank in 2011, whereas China and the US are growing. Energy saving renovation of buildings provides an opportunity to grow both the renewable and the efficiency industry.

If European governments are serious about stimulating growth and employment, they should support national renovation roadmaps and make their development mandatory."

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