Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment

The built environment is important to EU energy efficiency policy, since nearly 40 per cent of final energy consumption is in houses, offices, shops, and other buildings.[1] [2] This is reflected in the fact that a specific directive ‘on the energy performance of buildings’ was adopted in 2002.95 This was replaced in 2010 by Directive 2010/31/EU with the same title.[3] However, important requirements pertaining to buildings can also be found in the general energy efficiency directive of 2012, as will be seen presently.

Directive 2010/31/EU establishes a framework for calculating the integrated energy performance of buildings and building units and provides for the application of minimum requirements to the energy performance of, inter alia, new buildings and new building units, as well as existing buildings, building units, and building elements that are subject to major renovation. Like the general Directive on energy efficiency, this Directive is based on Article 194 but makes clear that it contains minimum requirements and shall not prevent Member States from maintaining or introducing more stringent measures. (Art 1.)

A general framework for calculating the energy performance of buildings is set out in Annex I (Art 3). Each Member State is to set minimum energy performance requirements for buildings or building units with a view to achieving cost-optimal levels. What constitutes cost-optimal levels is to be calculated in accordance with a comparative methodology framework established in accordance with Article 5 and set out in a Delegated Regulation.[4]

When setting minimum energy performance requirements, Member States may differentiate between new and existing buildings and between different categories of buildings. The requirements must be reviewed at least every five years and shall, if necessary, be updated in order to reflect technical progress in the building sector. A Member State may decide not to set or apply the requirements to certain categories of buildings, including buildings officially protected because of their special architectural or historical merit, buildings used for religious activities, residential buildings which are used for less than four months of the year, and stand-alone buildings with a total useful floor area of less than 50 m2. (Art 4.)

Subject to those exceptions, all new buildings are to meet the minimum energy performance requirements. So are buildings or building units that undergo major renovation in so far as it is technically, functionally, and economically feasible. (Arts 6—7.)

Since in most countries only a small part of the building stock is added as new buildings each year and since existing buildings may only undergo major renovation every twenty to thirty years, rules that apply to new or substantially renovated buildings will only very slowly change the overall energy performance of the building stock. Under the general energy efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU), Member States are therefore required to establish a long-term strategy for mobilising investment in the renovation of the national stock of residential and commercial buildings. This strategy shall encompass, inter alia, an overview of the national building stock, identification of cost-effective approaches to renovations, policies and measures to stimulate cost-effective deep renovations of buildings, and an evidence- based estimate of expected energy savings and wider benefits. (Art 4.)

With respect to certain public buildings, the Directive also sets a mandatory target for annual renovations. Of the total floor area of heated and/or cooled buildings owned and occupied by the central government, 3 per cent is to be renovated each year to meet at least the minimum energy performance requirements that the Member State has set in application of Article 4 of Directive 2010/31/EU.

The 3 per cent rate is calculated on the total floor area of buildings with a total useful floor area over 500 m2 owned and occupied by the central government that, on 1 January of each year, do not meet the national minimum energy performance requirements. In 2015 the threshold was lowered to 250 m2. (Art 5.)

Even though individual Member States may extend the 3 per cent renovation obligation to be calculated based on floor area owned and occupied by administrative departments at a level below central government, it is still a very small part of all buildings that are affected, particularly when applying the obligation only to central government buildings.

A Member State may, subject to notification to the Commission, opt for an alternative approach whereby it takes other cost-effective measures, including deep renovations and measures for behavioural change of occupants, to achieve the same amount of energy savings that would have been achieved by applying the 3 per cent renovation target (Art 5).

Particular attention is given in the Directive to building standards and codes. These instruments shall be used to increase the share of all kinds of energy from renewable sources in the building sector. By 31 December 2014 building regulations and codes had, where appropriate, to require the use of minimum levels of energy from renewable sources in new buildings and in existing buildings that are subject to major renovation. New public buildings, and existing public buildings that are subject to major renovation, shall fulfil an exemplary role. (Art 13.)

Returning to Directive 2010/31/EU, it contains extensive regulation of so-called ‘nearly zero-energy buildings’ (Art 9); however, the Directive does not provide a clear definition of such a building, merely that it is a building that has ‘a very high energy performance’, as determined in accordance with the general framework in Annex I. But it is made clear that the nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable sources, including energy from renewable sources produced on site or nearby. All new buildings are required to be nearly zero-energy buildings by 31 December 2020 and new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities should meet this requirement from 1 January 2019. Member States are to draw up national plans, to be assessed by the Commission, for increasing the number of nearly zero- energy buildings. They must also develop policies and take measures such as the setting of targets in order to stimulate the transformation of buildings that are refurbished into nearly zero-energy buildings.

Each Member State must furthermore establish a system of certification of the energy performance of buildings. An energy performance certificate shall state the energy performance of the building or building unit concerned and reference values that make it possible for owners or tenants to compare and assess the energy performance. With some exceptions, certificates are to be issued for all buildings or building units which are constructed, sold, or rented out to a new tenant. Buildings where a total useful floor area over 250 m2 is occupied by a public authority and frequently visited by the public must have a certificate irrespective of being sold or rented to a new tenant. Energy performance certification is to be carried out in an independent manner by qualified and/or accredited experts and be subject to an independent control system. When buildings or building units are constructed, sold, or rented out, a copy of the certificate must be shown to the prospective new tenant or buyer. Energy performance data must also be provided in any commercial advertisements when a building that has an energy performance certificate is offered for sale or rent. (Arts 12, 17, and 18.)

The Directive also provides for regular mandatory inspections of heating and air-conditioning systems (Arts 14—15).

  • [1] Energy Efficiency Plan 2011 (n 90) 6.
  • [2] Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the energy performance of buildings [2003] OJ L 1/65.
  • [3] 96 Directive 2010/31/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on the energy performance of buildings [2010] OJ L 153/13.
  • [4] Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 244/2012 supplementing Directive 2010/31/EUof the European Parliament and of the Council on the energy performance of buildings by establishinga comparative methodology framework for calculating cost-optimal levels of minimum energy performance requirements for buildings and building elements [2012] OJ L 81/18.
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