Energy Efficiency of Buildings 

The EU’s fight against climate change and its legislative efforts to promote energy efficiency are reflected in the Recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. This is an attempt to make buildings more energy efficient, as 40% of the EU’s energy consumption goes into the heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting of buildings.


An impact assessment and summary carried out by the European Commission claims that the building sector is responsible for half of CO2 emissions not covered by the missions Trading Scheme (ETS). The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) issued a report on energy efficiency on buildings which claims savings in this sector could deliver larger CO2 cuts than entire emissions of transport, based on 2050 projections. Moreover, cities from 18 EU member states recommended lowering the 1000m2 threshold for the recast, including energy-use figures in energy performance certificates and introducing certification to guarantee the quality of inspections and energy-performance certificates.

In this context, even if an ‘Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’ (EPBD) was adopted in 2002, the Commission wants a stricter law on energy saving. In 2002, the Directive on buildings laid down requirements regarding “the general framework for a methodology of calculation of the integrated energy performance of buildings, the application of minimum requirements on the energy performance of new buildings, the application of minimum requirements on the energy performance of large existing buildings that are subject to major renovation, energy certification of buildings, regular inspection of boilers and of air-conditioning systems in buildings and in addition an assessment of the heating installation in which the boilers are more than 15 years old.” 

Apart from the EPBD, European Union adopted a number of other Directives which tackle energy aspects in the buildings context, including the Eco-design of Energy-using Products Directive (2005/32/EC), the Directive on the Promotion of Cogeneration (2004/8/EC), the Energy End-use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive (2006/32/EC),  and the Directive on the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources (adopted by EP on 17 December 2008, not yet published in the Official Journal). Other relevant provisions on buildings can also be found in the Construction Products Directive (89/106/EEC); and in the Sustainable Production and Consumption and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan.

The recast directive

On 13 November 2008, the Commission proposed the recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which involves tougher inspections of boilers and air-conditioning systems and official certification that buildings comply with the law.

The recast extends the scope of the old directive to cover buildings less than 1000 m2 in order to achieve further reductions of CO2 emissions. Member states are asked to set up minimum energy performance requirements when major renovation is to be carried out. The recast reinforces the provisions on energy performance certificates, inspections of heating and air-conditioning systems, energy performance requirements and independent experts. It provides member states with benchmarking calculation instrument and asks them to develop frameworks for low or zero energy and carbon buildings. It also encourages “a more active involvement of the public sector to provide a leading example.”

Member states have to set their requirements using their own calculation methodology. The Commission will nevertheless prepare a comparative methodology, which they will have to use for comparing results between themselves.

From 30 June 2014, member states are not allowed to support the construction of buildings which do not comply with the minimum energy performance requirements. Member states have to inform building owners or tenants on energy performance certificates and the inspection of heating and air-conditioning systems.

The Commissions claims that “the investment requirements and the administrative costs are relatively low compared to the benefits and the returns”. According to its calculations, abolishing the 1000 m2 threshold for example, would lead to €8 billion/year additional capital investments, but would trigger €25 billion/year energy cost savings by 2020, which also means considerable negative CO2 abatement costs.

European Parliament and Council reactions

In the European Parliament, MEPs are generally convinced of the importance of the recast and support the Commission’s proposal. In the Industry committee, Romanian rapporteur Silvia Ticau calls for greater fiscal incentives. She claims that national programmes of public works are needed in addition to credits, loans, tax breaks, VAT cuts etc and urged the Council of the European Union to give greater priority to the Directive.  She also wants to create a website to act as a ‘one stop shop’ to advise consumers on renovations to existing buildings.

The reaction of the Council is also favorable to a broad extend, but some member states see problems in applying minimum national energy efficiency standards to all buildings undergoing major renovations. Others regard the mandatory EU-wide formula to calculate cost-optimal minimum energy efficiency standards from 2017 and inspections of heating systems as well as boilers as “premature” ambitions. Until now, governments didn’t tackle the biggest issue concerning MEPs: financing.

This issue is likely to be a major topic for some time. As debate is still ongoing, the fate of the Buildings Directive cannot be anticipated. EU lawmakers estimate that the proposal might be adopted after the summer, under the Swedish presidency, but recent developments underline how much work there is still ahead.