Energy efficiency of buildings: A nearly zero-energy future?

Briefing 11-05-2016

Buildings account for 40% of overall energy consumption in the European Union and could contribute significantly to reaching EU climate and energy targets as well as reducing EU dependency on imported gas and oil, thereby limiting the need for higher electricity production. The 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive tried to seize this potential by introducing the concept of nearly zero-energy buildings, which is supposed to become a mandatory EU standard for all new and newly rented public buildings by 2019, and all new buildings by 2021. However, with energy efficiency of the overwhelming majority of existing buildings being unsatisfactory, their renovation is even more crucial. While the Directive demands that Member States set stringent energy performance requirements for major renovation, there are no targets for the pace at which this should be done, and the uptake has been slow. Most of the buildings in the EU are privately owned and their owners have been reluctant to undertake expensive renovations, which are complex decisions that also hinge on technical, legal, financial and organisational considerations. EU funding earmarked for renovations is available, but private owners have had difficulty accessing it. Buildings owned by central governments were supposed to be renovated at an annual rate of 3%, but due to insufficient data, it is unclear whether this has happened. The European Parliament has been ambitious in this field and has repeatedly called for a stronger focus on renovation of existing buildings.