EU must ensure everyone benefits from energy efficient buildings

Written by Miapetra Kumpula-Natri on 29 June 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

The EU must make sure everyone benefits from energy efficiency, and this means investing more in renovations, writes Miapetra Kumpula-Natri.

Miapetra Kumpula-Natri | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


In the heat of the summer, not many of us like to remember what Brussels is like during the winter. But if you allow yourself to go back just a few months, I'm sure you can still feel the gentle blow of freezing air from underneath your door. 

In many houses in Brussels, as well as in other parts of Europe, thin walls, single glazed windows and 50-year-old radiators ensure that if you're planning to spend some time at home without a ski jacket, your energy bill will be huge.

There are differences between the member states of course. Not everyone has to be prepared for winter days of -30 degrees Celsius like I do back home in Finland. Still, the magic word in all of Europe is 'heating'. 


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Despite what some in the southern member states might think, all European countries - save for Malta - use a lot more energy to heat up their house in the winter, than they do to cool it down in the summer.

I'm a shadow rapporteur on the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), currently being discussed in the industry, research and energy committee.

Buildings are responsible for 40 per cent of energy consumption and 36 per cent of CO2 emissions in the EU. We now aim to reduce Europe's energy consumption and increase the use of energy from renewable sources.

By improving the energy efficiency of buildings, we could reduce total EU energy consumption by five to six per cent per cent and lower CO2 emissions by about five per cent. This in turn will slow down climate change.

With US President Donald Trump unwilling to protect the planet, Europe has to take an even stronger lead in saving humanity.

Net zero energy buildings are one of the best ways to reach CO2 emissions goals, but we won't get results simply by building new energy efficient houses. Decarbonising the building stock is very slow if we only build new houses. Member states need to present long and medium term strategies for speeding up energy efficiency by renovations.

We also need a holistic approach: houses are part of a bigger picture within so-called smart cities. An ambitious EPBD will also create jobs and growth.

So, what is it that we want? In short, buildings need to be more energy efficient in the future. This, in turn, requires the people involved in the design and construction of houses are trained and pushed to make energy efficient houses, and that it is possible to monitor energy usage.

It was previously agreed that new public buildings must have nearly zero energy inefficiency by 2019 and all new buildings by 2021. Now we have to start thinking about renovations.

Member states must set minimum energy performance requirements for new buildings and for the major renovation of buildings as well as draw up lists of national financial measures to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

We'd like to see big non-residential developments equipped with building automation and control systems by 2023. These systems will monitor and analyse energy usage, make sure that heating, cooling and ventilation work as they should and adjust energy usage, so that at every moment a minimum amount of energy is used. The payback time of such investments is only a few years.

There are also still low hanging fruits to be picked, like introducing more radiator valves with thermostats, which are still not obligatory in some member states - and have been in use since the 70s in others.

In addition, the directive will include regulation for electric car charging points, a big step towards carbon-free traffic. I see this as an opportunity to reach charging infrastructure for electrical driving in a cost-effective way.

Once major renovations take place, installing cables or ducts for charging stations is the most cost-effective triggering point.

Charging points for electric cars have to be installed in new non-residential buildings and in existing buildings undergoing substantial renovation. As for residential buildings, re-cabling for electric recharging will have to be installed.

We also have the opportunity to address problems that are present in everyday life. Poor indoor environment quality afflicts too many houses and contributes to making people ill.

Today, energy efficiency is often a privilege enjoyed by people who are rather well-off. The poor can't afford to switch household appliances to more energy efficient models or renovate their house to have better insulation. They won't build solar panels or geothermal heat pumps but try to afford big oil bills. 

Poor people live in older houses - about 35 per cent of the EU's buildings are over 50 years old - and while new buildings need fewer than three to five litres of heating oil per square metre per year, older buildings consume about 25 litres on average.

About 15 per cent of EU citizens, in some member states more than 30 per cent of people, live in a dwelling with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames.

About 10 per cent can't afford to keep their home adequately warm. The EU has to make sure that all the citizens will benefit from energy efficiency and that the member states allocate enough money to renovations all across society.

 

About the author

Miapetra Kumpula-Natri (FI) is Parliament's S&D group shadow rapporteur on the energy performance of buildings directive

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