Lawmaker pushes ‘neighbourhood’ approach in revised EU buildings law

Created date

23 06 2022

The lawmaker overseeing the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in the European Parliament is pushing for a novel approach to buildings that sees them as part of a broader neighbourhood instead of isolated units.

Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe, the lead negotiator for the EPBD in Parliament, submitted his draft report on 6 June to the assembly’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE).

Cuffe, who previously served as a Minister of State in Ireland, pushes for the decarbonisation of all buildings in Europe, both residential and non-residential.

“As an architect and urban planner, I know we can make vast improvements to the energy performance of our buildings to create warmer, safer homes that are better for our planet,” he said.

Tabled in December by the European Commission, the revised EPBD aims to accelerate the energy renovation of worst-performing buildings while prioritising social safeguards and financial support for households at risk of energy poverty. The objective is to reduce Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels, and contribute to meeting the EU’s climate targets.

“I know we can and must provide better protection for vulnerable families against extreme weather events and volatile energy prices,” said Cuffe.

The proposed directive includes social safeguards for minimum energy performance standards, an increased rollout of solar energy and an expansion of heat pumps in buildings, as well as holistic renovations that consider indoor environmental quality. 

Minimum energy performance standards

In Europe, buildings account for around 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions. Almost 75% of the EU’s building stock is energy inefficient, but only 0.4-1.2% is renovated yearly. 

To tackle this, the new draft proposes applying minimum energy performance standards first in the worst-performing buildings, adding safeguards for households to protect them from burdensome debt. 

Cuffe proposes increasing financial assistance for vulnerable groups through targeted loans or grants and promoting renewable energy deployment in buildings by expanding EU support measures to heat pumps. 

“The Rapporteur proposes to expand the provision to include the installation of heat pumps in line with the Commission’s proposal to roll out 10 million heat pumps in the next five years,” reads the explanatory statement. 

Holistic renovations and a neighbourhood approach

The revised EPBD aims to reduce the climate footprint of buildings to net-zero emissions. The idea is to have buildings which can be self-sufficient, operate on renewables, or even produce excess energy for other uses.

Member States are encouraged to adopt a neighbourhood approach to renovations to promote energy communities through renewables-based district heating and cooling infrastructure and motivating communities to collaborate on local solutions.

“Deep renovations play a key role in breaking free from fossil fuel dependency,” Cuffe writes in the explanatory memorandum of his report. “It is essential that deep renovations become the standard form of renovation so that households can profit from more substantial energy savings and switch from fossil fuel based heating and cooling to renewables based systems.”

“This means supporting the creation of One-Stop-Shops that can provide guidance on the design of renovation plans and also coordinate the different needs of a district’s social fabric,” Cuffe told EURACTIV.

The Irish MEP has urged the Commission for some time to introduce “integrated renovation programmes” at EU level to speed deep renovation of the existing build stock.

The idea is that the renovation could be more effective if the whole neighbourhood and not only single buildings are considered, also addressing local mobility, social infrastructures, and water and wastewater management.

This approach is supported by Viessmann, the German manufacturer of home heating appliances.

“We champion an approach that is citizen-led and puts people, their living conditions as well as their local building and neighbourhood first,” said Alix Chambris, global vice president of Public Affairs & Sustainability at Viessmann Group.  

“With integrated planning and subsidies schemes for PV, heat pumps and storage, we can not only increase energy savings and boost demand-side flexibility but help people become more involved in the energy transition,” she told EURACTIV.

> The draft Cuffe report on the EPBD can be downloaded here. Explanatory statement and relevant articles here. Press release by Ciarán Cuffe here.