EPBD: Why buildings matter

Stop Wasting Energy ConceptBuildings consume 40 per cent of our total energy consumption in Europe and are responsible for 36 per cent of our CO2 emissions. Since we import half the energy used in Europe – mainly from Russia and the Middle East – amounting to more than €1bn in daily energy imports, it’s easy to see the potential in improving the energy performance of our buildings.

It has also become increasingly important to harvest these ‘low hanging fruits’ due to the commitments that the EU has set itself – including the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

We could reduce the EU’s energy consumption by up to six per cent and lower CO2 emissions by five per cent, if we make our building stock more energy efficient. The European Commission reports that new buildings use just eight per cent of the energy used for heating that some of the oldest buildings in the EU consume.

However, since new buildings are constructed at a rate of roughly one per cent a year, the revision of the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), mainly focuses on improvements to existing buildings.

And, while we are at it, improving the efficiency of existing buildings comes with the added opportunity to create better living and working conditions for Europeans, as well as increasing the value of and future-proofing our building stock.

Naturally, we should deploy all available tools to improve our buildings – be it low-energy windows, smart meters, insulation, thermostats, heat pumps, software solutions etc. Solutions vary from house to house – and across the continent.

The savings we can achieve by improvement, will translate directly into lower energy bills for Europeans and will go some way to helping alleviate the burden, which some households face, of making ends meet on their energy bills.

And while many say that these households cannot afford to improve their homes, nor have the needed incentives to do so, I think that is a backwards discussion.

First, we have many good examples of modifications, which may not traditionally be considered renovations.

With only €20 at hand, it’s possible for homeowners to convert from a manual to a thermostatic valve, and reap the benefits on their energy bills in a very short period. We must make use of all available efforts to improve – big and small.

Second, financial tools are available to facilitate renovation efforts. While public money and programmes are both helpful and necessary, they cannot deliver solely on their own. I would argue that we should put private money to use within the building renovation sector.

I have encountered enormous interest in private investor participation – not just from institutional investors such as pension funds and banks, but also from private companies providing energy savings contracts and conducting renovations with real results.

In the current low interest environment, investing in the energy renovation of buildings could prove to deliver a superior return – to the benefit of both citizens and businesses. Growth in the buildings sector means no outsourceable jobs, particularly in SMEs. A win-win.

Another cornerstone of the EPBD revision is the proposal to use the directive to drive the roll out of infrastructure for electro-mobility. This entails for example, a requirement to install charging points for electric vehicles within commercial parking spaces when renovating.

Although transport electrification is an import step in decarbonising, we must tread carefully. We should not discourage people from renovating by adding costly requirements for charging stations.

I believe we should facilitate affordable infrastructure, such as precabling, when renovating, in order to keep costs and incentives in balance. Since electricity companies have a vested interest in rolling out charging points, I trust the market to meet the increasing demand.

Electro-mobility will be one of the major battlegrounds, not just in the European Parliament, but also in the negotiations with Council. But it won’t be the only area where the EU institutions will clash. Member states’ commitment on prioritising building renovation is likely to be another fundamental issue.

As in other areas, securing political commitment brings the investor certainty needed to guide private investments. Private investors want security and long-term commitment, not stop-and-go policies. I am confident we will deliver a good result based on a broad compromise in Parliament.

This will be necessary to clinch a good deal with the Council that, in turn, will deliver benefits to our European citizens in terms of lower energy bills, healthier homes and a better climate for the future.

/Bragt i Parliament magazine 28. juni 2017

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