Energy Efficiency in Buildings


Travelling through Europe, one cannot fail to notice that there are many historical buildings. More than a third of Europe’s building stock is older than 50 years, with many buildings still in use more than 100 - sometimes hundreds of - years old. This is part of Europe’s charm, but this also means that most buildings in Europe were built before any energy efficiency performance standards were adopted. Not only the buildings themselves are old, but almost half of European buildings have inefficient boilers, which were installed before 1992. The major challenge for Europe is therefore renovating the (heating of) existing buildings and implementing rigorous energy performance standards for new buildings. The good news is that a wide range of high-efficiency and renewable heating technologies are available today to meet this twin challenge.

EU Policy

The European Union has been developing policy to promote the energy efficiency of buildings for less than a decade. The 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive set an overall target for the European Union to reduce its energy consumption by 20% by 2020. The Energy Efficiency Directive leaves a lot of flexibility to Member States on how to achieve these efficiency gains, but it was always clear that building renovation was going to be a major part of this effort: for example, Member States have to submit National Building Renovation Strategies to the European Commission. In addition, the European Union adopted in 2010 an Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which introduced energy performance requirements for new buildings and buildings undergoing a major renovation. This was a first for many EU Member States. The EPBD created a framework to improve the energy efficiency of buildings with a whole range of new policy tools: cost-optimal minimum energy performance requirements, mandatory inspections of heating and air-conditioning systems, energy performance certificates and the requirement for all new buildings to be “nearly Zero Energy” from 2021. Given the EU’s relatively recent nature of EU policy-making in this area, it is not surprising that the implementation of an EU-wide framework for energy-efficient buildings has been more successful in some areas than in others. For a detailed discussion, see the 2016 report of the Concerted Action Energy Performance of Buildings. In November 2016, the European Commission launched the Clean Energy Package, which also includes proposals for a review of the EPBD. Amongst the new elements of the latest proposal for a revised EPBD, there is a requirement for EU Member States to develop ‘long-term renovation strategies’ with 2030 milestones; as well as a push for EU buildings to become ‘smart’.

The role of the heating industry - EHI position

For the European Heating Industry, the EPBD has been a useful instrument that has allowed EU Member States to make progress on the energy performance of buildings. Technology-neutral instruments like the EPBD push more high-efficiency technologies, but do not oblige consumers to use specific technologies in their new or renovated buildings. This is the right choice, as a one-size-fits-all policy that incentivises e.g. the same or similar heating solutions across the EU will not work. EHI supports the main objective of the EPBD proposals in the above-mentioned Clean Energy Package, namely “to accelerate the cost-effective renovation of existing buildings”. For EHI members, the lack of consumers’ awareness about the (in)efficiency of old heating appliances is a key barrier to improving the efficiency of heating and hot water, which accounts for approximately 85% of the energy consumption in buildings. One of the concrete policy tools to increase consumer awareness, promoted by EHI, is providing an energy label to installed heating appliances. Such a label would inform consumers about the efficiency of the heater installed in their own home, taking as an opportunity the regular maintenance inspection. This label builds on the successful Ecodesign and Energy Labelling policies which apply “only” to new products put on the market. Since January 2016, a labelling programme for installed heaters has been rolled out in Germany, where the German government provides also information for the consumer about alternative high-efficiency and renewable technologies, about the potential energy savings and the availability of financial incentives to upgrade to a new heating system. Other EU Member States have already expressed interest in replicating this initiative.