Building renovation can provide new momentum to the European project

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

Germany is moving ahead with upscaling renovation advice: the government just announced the introduction of renovation passports, calling them “renovation timetables”. [Georgios Karamanis/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Health activists join EU building renovation crusade.

Politicians often ignore building renovation programmes as low-level politics reserved for energy experts. This is misguided, says Oliver Rapf – as renovation stands at the crux of economic, energy, social and even health policies.

Oliver Rapf is Executive Director of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE).

Our buildings are – to a large degree – no longer fit for purpose. 75% of the EU building stock is considered inefficient. Recent data from the European Building Stock Observatory shows that an average of 16% of buildings (ranging to over 30% in some countries) do not provide adequate indoor quality, resulting in high social, economic and environmental costs.

It is high time to make our buildings fit for purpose, and in the process, create local jobs, generate economic growth and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Without doubt, we need to address this issue urgently, and the ongoing political negotiations on the Clean energy for all Europeans package over the coming months are the once-in-a-decade opportunity to define a framework which creates both clear regulation and a system of incentives to drive deep renovation.

The multiple benefits of renovation are well known: deep renovation leads to energy security, employment creation, reduced air pollution and poverty alleviation, as well as improved health, comfort and productivity.

But the momentum to renovate our buildings is far too sluggish, because the well-documented barriers are not really tackled, and the proposed revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), as currently drafted, will miss the opportunity to change this. Renovation investments should be encouraged at so-called trigger points.

These are events in the life of a building which make it more convenient for owners and tenants to renovate, more cost-effective for investors (who may or may not be the occupant), and more strategic by avoiding problems for later upgrades.

Of course, using a trigger point effectively requires having a good plan in place. An individual building renovation passport provides exactly this plan. It identifies which renovation measures could be taken, in which order and with what investment. As they are tailored to each building, they are not abstract documents but are relevant to people’s particular circumstances.

At the same time, these plans are an important tool for investors, as they describe the investment opportunity in detail. Combining hundreds or thousands of these investment plans makes aggregation of smaller projects into one big investment pool possible, because renovation passports will contain standardised information. And this pool becomes an attractive investment opportunity for large scale investors, like pension funds who are looking for long-term and safe investment opportunities. Pooling many renovation projects dramatically reduces the risk of project failures, and allows large third-party investors to support individual building owners who may not have the means to invest.

Combining the concept of trigger points for renovation with the advice and plans provided by renovation passports, coupled with a well-functioning financing mechanism will create the much needed momentum for renovation, and bring real benefits to European citizens.

Unfortunately, in the current discussions on the future Buildings Directive, the European Parliament is the only proponent for such consumer- and economy-friendly measures. The Commission’s proposal shied away from triggering more renovation activities, and the member states, under the presidency leadership of Malta, are doing their best to reduce ambition.

This is despite the fact that some countries are implementing effective measures. For example, the Estonian funding scheme for renovation has a leverage of 2.3, meaning that for every Euro of public money invested, private investment of 2.3€ is triggered. A similar programme in the Czech Republic is leveraging 2.7€, and Malta’s scheme 5.5€. The Netherlands even claim to have a funding scheme which triggers 83€ of investment for every euro of public funding! This is because funding is provided as a preferential loan paid back by the investors. Also, the Dutch scheme benefits from a partnership agreement between the government, banks and energy experts which seeks to resolve specific barriers to implementation.

In the meantime, Germany is moving ahead with upscaling renovation advice: the government just announced the introduction of renovation passports, calling them “renovation timetables”.

So why do the EU presidency negotiators not seize the opportunity to translate these good national examples in a European framework which supports other countries to take similar steps? Why not enable the millions of building owners in Europe to renovate their homes and workplaces, and empower public authorities to renovate crumbling schools and hospitals? It is not a question of money – as every banker will tell you, the money is there, but we need to begin channelling this money to the right investments.

The political negotiations in the coming months between the EU institutions are a once-in-a-decade opportunity to give European citizens access to healthy, comfortable and efficient buildings powered by clean energy. This would be very much delivering on the title of the Commission’s proposal. Let’s ensure we grasp that opportunity.

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