EU agrees “Blueprint for the world to decarbonise building stock”

The next version of the EU Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings (EPBD) has been provisionally agreed – including proposals for zero emission buildings, building renovation passports, a phase out of fossil fuel boilers and the introduction of whole life carbon calculation for buildings.

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The text of the proposed directive was agreed by the European Parliament and Council on 7 December, with a final vote due in the new year.

Dublin Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe, who led the negotiations with EU member states and the Commission on behalf of the European Parliament, described the agreement as a “blueprint for the world” for decarbonising building stock.

The EPBD is one of the final pieces of legislation to close from the EU’s Fit for 55 or ‘European Green Deal’ package, that aims to cut the bloc's CO2 emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 when compared to 1990 levels.

In light of the enormous challenge posed by emissions and energy use from Europe’s existing building stock, the revised EPBD contains measures to improve the strategic planning of renovations and the tools to ensure such renovations will happen. Under the agreed provisions, member states will:

  • Establish national building renovation plans to set out the national strategy to decarbonise the building stock and how to address remaining barriers, such as financing, training and attracting more skilled workers.
  • Set up national building renovation passport schemes to guide building owners in staged renovations towards zero emission buildings.
  • Establish one-stop-shops for homeowners, SMEs, and all actors in the renovation value chain, to receive dedicated and independent support and guidance.

In addition, the deal will help the EU to gradually phase-out fossil fuel boilers. Subsidies for the installation of stand-alone fossil fuel boilers will not be allowed as of 1 January 2025. The revised directive introduces a clear legal basis for member states to set requirements for heat generators based on emissions, type of fuel used, or the minimum share of renewable energy used for heating. Member states will also have to set out measures with a view to a complete phase-out of fossil fuel boilers by 2040.

The revised directive will mandate zero emission buildings for new buildings.

Under the agreement all new residential and non-residential buildings must have zero on-site emissions from fossil fuels, as of 1 January 2028 for publicly owned buildings and as of 1 January 2030 for all other new buildings, with a possibility for specific exemptions.

Member states will also have to ensure that new buildings are solar-ready, meaning that they must be fit to host rooftop photovoltaic or solar thermal arrays. Installing solar will become the norm for new builds. For existing public and non-residential buildings, solar will need to be gradually installed, starting from 2027, where technically, economically and functionally feasible. Such provisions will come into force at different points in time depending on the building type and size.

Energy performance certificates (EPCs) will be reformed based on a common EU template with common criteria, to better inform citizens and make financing decisions across the EU easier.

Whole life carbon

By 1 January 2027 member states will be required to publish a roadmap on whole life carbon emissions, described in the proposed text as cumulative life-cycle global warming potential (GWP). The roadmap must detail the introduction of limit values on life-cycle GWP of all new buildings, and set targets for new buildings of over 1,000m2 from 2028 and all new buildings from 2030, with a requirement to introduce a progressive downward trend, as well as maximum limit values, detailed for different climatic zones and building typologies. The maximum limit values shall be in line with the EU’s objectives to achieve climate neutrality.

Each member state will adopt its own national trajectory to reduce the average primary energy use of residential buildings by 16 per cent by 2030 and 20-22 per cent by 2035, allowing for sufficient flexibility to consider national circumstances. Member states are free to choose which buildings to target and which measures to take, though at least 55 per cent of the decrease of the average primary energy use must be achieved through the renovation of the worst-performing buildings. Given the rate at which the primary energy of electricity is falling as generation switches to renewables, it’s likely that a key measure for member states to cut primary energy will be to replace fossil fuel boilers with heat pumps.

For the non-residential building stock, the revised rules require to gradually improve primary energy use via minimum energy performance standards. This will lead to renovating the 16 per cent worst-performing buildings by 2030 and the 26 per cent worst-performing buildings by 2033.

To fight energy poverty and bring down energy bills, financing measures will have to incentivise and accompany renovations and be targeted in particular at vulnerable customers and worst-performing buildings, in which a higher share of energy-poor households live.

Member states will also have to ensure that there are safeguards for tenants, to help tackle the risk of eviction of vulnerable households caused by disproportionate rent increases following a renovation.

The deal will also boost the take-up of sustainable mobility thanks to provisions on pre-cabling, recharging points for electric vehicles and bicycle parking spaces.

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40 per cent of EU energy consumption, more than half of EU gas consumption (mainly through heating, cooling and domestic hot water), and 36 per cent of the energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. At present, about 35 per cent of the EU's buildings are over 50 years old and almost 75 per cent of the building stock is described by the commission as energy inefficient. At the same time, the average annual energy renovation rate is only about 1 per cent.

Commenting on the agreement, Ciarán Cuffe said: “We have achieved something remarkable this evening: created a blueprint for the world to decarbonise its building stock. With this plan, we add an essential pillar to the EU’s decarbonisation plans and begin the long journey towards reducing 36 per cent of Europe’s CO2 emissions.

“That journey will begin with the buildings that are wasting the most energy. Energy wasted is money wasted on bills. We must help citizens to save money and protect them from volatile energy prices. That is why we have chosen a route that can lower energy bills for everyone, homeowners and renters alike, and addresses the root causes of energy poverty.”