Renovating homes and buildings is often a highly complex task with unforeseen hurdles. The same goes to renovating buildings to reduce their carbon footprint.
As part of the Fit for 55 package adopted by the European Commission a year ago, which sets to reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% in 2030, the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is a key pillar of the EU Renovation Wave Strategy. The revised EPBD is meant to set the vision and outline the tools for achieving a zero-emission building stock by 2050, introducing a new definition of “zero-emission building” and refining existing definitions such as “nearly-zero energy building” and “deep renovation”. As of 2030, all new buildings in the EU must be zero-emission buildings, while new public buildings must be zero-emission as of 2027.
The revision of the EPBD closely impacts local and regional authorities because they will be in charge of its implementation, leading by example through the renovation of public buildings. The transition to a systematic circular approach to building renovation will require significant efforts in terms of reskilling and support for local competences, both in the public and private sector.
Through this key pillar of the European Green Deal, Member States, in cooperation with local and regional authorities, must considerably fight energy poverty of vulnerable territories, households and businesses across the EU, especially in light of the sustained high energy crisis exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The PES Group member André Viola, member of the Departmental Council of Aude (France), is leading the work within the Committee of the Regions Commission for the Environment, Climate change and Energy (ENVE) as rapporteur on the Committee opinion on the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.
Mr. Viola, given the geopolitical tensions and the current energy crisis we are facing, how ambitious can we afford to be in the renovation of buildings?
I would see the situation the other way around: we cannot afford not to be ambitious. The present energy crisis shows how reducing energy consumption is key not only to save the planet, but also to ensure the security of the EU. And where to start from if not from buildings?
After decades of focusing on theoretical commitments instead of real action, we find ourselves in a very difficult situation. Energy transition needs to be sped up immediately. We need a massive deployment of investments and capacities to drastically reduce the energy demand of buildings. This cannot be postponed any longer.
Anything less ambitious than this is simply a promise to fail on the European Green Deal, on our fight to eradicate energy poverty and to stop climate change.
Statistics show that improving the performance and increasing the rate of renovation was a tricky challenge in the past decades. What are the key points that this revision should include if the EU wants to succeed this time?
We need to recognise that, while we missed the opportunity of renovating significantly the EU building stock as a whole, over the last decades we developed competences and best practices. We need to build upon them and make best practices become the norm. We need to leverage on the huge experience created on the ground by the Covenant of Mayors and many other projects and EU initiatives. All this can happen only if we empower local and regional authorities. EU Citizens will not renovate their houses because the EU or the national government ask them to do so: they need to be engaged as protagonists in a local transition: only local and regional governments can lead on this.
We cannot just focus on energy or direct emissions: we need to focus on the entire life cycle of buildings and embed circular economy and sufficiency in all stages. We cannot afford anymore to save energy at expenses of other relevant components of the Green Deal.
We need to set Minimum Performance Standards at the right level of ambition: not to be the case we will waste money in making blurry renovation that will not make our buildings fit for 2030 and 2050 targets. We cannot afford not to just improve energy efficiency, we need to really transform the building stock.
Staged Renovation should be carefully designed! We know that 'major renovation' of existing buildings, regardless of their size, occur: once every 25 years in residential buildings; and once every 15 years in non-residential buildings. Hence, residential buildings renovated during this decade are unlikely to undergo another major renovation round before 2050. We cannot pretend that our citizens will be continuously renovating their homes. This is simply not going to happen. We need to have a single renovation plan that can be implemented over years if needed, but just one!
Finally yet importantly, renovating the EU building stock will happen only if adequate financing will be made available to cities and regions.
What can be the positive spillover across the EU of this renovation plan when it comes to fighting energy poverty?
This is our last chance to get it right. If the energy bills are so high for our households and enterprises it is because of the cost of inaction during the past 3 decades, and not only because of the disruptions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Millions of vulnerable households were forced to choose between heating or eating, well before the dramatic war in Ukraine.
We know that we cannot aim at having the entirety of EU buildings being climate neutral. The historic heritage of the EU needs to be preserved and we will have to have some flexibility when needed. This entails that we will also need to have climate positive buildings that produce more energy than the one they consume. These buildings will be cheaper to maintain and have a significant potential in alleviating energy poverty.