This article is part of our special report Energy Efficiency in Buildings.
SPECIAL REPORT / The current system of certifying buildings according to their energy performance is beset by patchy enforcement, wildly-varying certificate costs, a laissez-faire attitude towards displaying information, and a lack of trained inspectors, according to the preliminary findings of a study by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE).
Countries in the EU are obliged to label all public authority buildings and properties bought, sold or rented for their efficiency standards under the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD), so providing information about the likely range of future energy bills.
The directive says that certification schemes should be set up, independent control systems established and penalties for non-compliance set. But the new research shows that close to half of the bloc’s 27 covered states have no financial penalties for non-compliance with the EPBD’s requirements, and the cost of the energy performance certificates (EPCs) themselves can vary from 10 to several hundred euros, depending on where you live.
Similarly, eight EU states have no minimum education requirements for their qualified experts and 13 states apply no financial or certification-withdrawal penalties for mistakes that such experts make in their energy performance calculations.
“It is as great shame that energy performance in buildings is not being rolled out at member states-level in the way that was intended,” commented Adrian Joyce, the secretary-general of the European Association of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE).
“We note that where EPCs are in compliance with the directive and properly priced they are a very powerful tool for consumers to help them decide which properties to invest in,” he told EURACTIV.
A requirement that all EU countries keep a centralised energy performance database of their buildings that can be publicly accessed is also widely flouted, the research finds.
“Some countries are doing a really good job,” said Oliver Rapf, the BPIE’s director. “Denmark has a broad database of individual buildings, Slovakia has something similar, and the Netherlands has a nice search engine where you can even search individual buildings by inputting an address.”
“But most other countries don’t have that and it limits that transparency,” he added.
Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic have no central database yet on their buildings, while countries such as the UK, Belgium, Spain and Italy depend on regional databases, which may not cover the whole country.
The European Commission has already begun infringement proceedings against three countries for not fully implementing the directive– Finland, Portugal and Belgium – and warning letters have been sent to several other EU member states.
The fines that could eventually be levied range from €19,000 a day for Finland, €25,000 a day for Portugal and €42,000 a day for Belgium.
But absolute defiance is not the only problem facing the EPC regime. In countries such as the UK, loopholes in energy efficiency legislation allow lawyers scope for advising clients on the best ways to opt out of the system.
“Anyone who advises landowners on this topic, knows there are grey areas where it is not clear whether you need to provide an EPC,” says one online summary by the law firm Mills and Reeve.
“You can always get one to be on the safe side. However, do you want to spend the money when there is an arguable case that your transaction is one which does not require an EPC?” the text asks?
It notes that new guidance for local authorities issued by the Department of Communities and Local Government last month failed to mention that if a deadline in one regulation is missed, notice of penalty charges cannot be served more than six months after the breach of duty occurred.
“We need stronger enforcement, better control and better independent advice given on energy performance certificates,” Joyce told EURACTIV.
Currently, member states have great latitude in determining how to display their EPC information.
“In some countries it is included in every real estate advert and is done really well,” Rapf said. “France is a good example for that but in other countries it depends on which online portal you’re looking for your real estate.”
Uneven enforcement of EPC provisions is viewed as a serious problem within the building industry’s pro-energy efficiency camp and, more widely, by environmentalists too.
Energy efficient buildings can cut energy bills and fuel poverty, and a strategy of renovations could more than halve dependence on Russian gas imports by 2030, according to a recent study by Ecofys.
Buildings are also responsible for around 40% of end-use energy consumption in the EU, and no decarbonisation of the bloc’s energy system is thought possible without addressing their energy wastage.