EU to debate building decarbonisation proposals - but are they radical enough?

22 February 2022 Kingspan Group

By Jonna Byskata
Head of EU Public Affairs, Kingspan Group

Some 50 million energy inefficient buildings could be renovated by the end of the decade under new EU rules. The plans are set out in a draft review of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) published by the European Commission this week.

The proposals will be debated by the European Parliament and Member States in the coming year, with a final adoption possible towards end 2022.

Buildings consume 40% of energy in Europe and are responsible for 36% of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions[1]. The urgency of decarbonising Europe’s building stock becomes even more apparent when one considers that the vast majority of buildings standing today – about 85 per cent – will still be operational in 2050 which is when Europe must be climate neutral.

Under the Commission’s proposal, the worst-performing non-residential buildings in each Member State must be upgraded from the lowest Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) grade, Grade G, to at least Grade F by 2027. For residential buildings the target date for Grade F is 2030, with a further improvement to Grade E by 2033.

The focus on the worst performing buildings is designed to maximise the potential for decarbonisation and alleviate energy poverty. However, some have argued that the move of just one EPC class is not ambitious enough and that deep renovations are required to meet climate goals. Industry groups has also pointed out that renovations are, by their nature, significant undertakings and that it would therefore make sense to go deeper from the start. That doesn’t mean everything has to done at once.

For example, it makes sense to insulate the building envelope before improving the heating system.

Deep renovation is defined as renovating to achieve NZEB (Near Zero Emissions Building) status before 2030, and zero emission status after that. However, elsewhere in the text, deep renovation is linked to a level of over 30% savings, which depending on the starting point may not be ambitious enough. There is likely to be a great deal of debate about this in the coming months.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of the new rules on homeowners’ ability to sell their properties. The European Commission acknowledges that people may have concerns and has said that Member States will have to put in place appropriate incentives and financial support to ensure people are not disadvantaged.

The new directive also proposes that as of 2030, all new buildings must be zero-emission. This means that buildings must consume as little energy as possible, be powered by renewables as far as possible, emit no on-site carbon from fossil fuels and must declare their global warming potential based on their whole-life cycle emissions on their Energy Performance Certificate.

The proposed new rules are undoubtedly an important step in the right direction. Decarbonising the global building stock is one of the most critical climate challenges of all but this draft legislation is not yet enough to stop the draughts in our buildings, nor the carbon emissions that come with them.

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