Sunday

25th Feb 2024

Opinion

Why is building renovation 'Cinderella' of EU Green Deal?

  • Buildings are the EU's single largest source of emissions - responsible for over a third of the bloc's total (Photo: Robert and Cathy)

It's unfortunate that it took a pandemic to see something so obvious. Energy efficiency is the Cinderella of climate solutions: virtuous and unassuming, but too often overlooked.

Most people focus on her glamorous siblings – renewables and electric vehicles. Is it finally time for her glass slipper moment?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The EU calls it the Renovation Wave, one of the central pillars of the European Green Deal.

The ambition is to massively accelerate the rate of improvements to private and public sector buildings: going faster and deeper than ever before, in an effort to support the economic recovery from Covid-19.

This is because energy efficiency is a jobs machine, making it one of the most attractive forms of economic stimulus.

According to recent estimates from McKinsey, €1 invested today will add over €2 of value for a large European economy. Governments can double their money.

The logic is simple. Improving millions of buildings creates hundreds of thousands of new green collar jobs.

It reduces energy bills for households, businesses and public sector bodies. Lowering demand also makes it more affordable to transform the energy system – benefiting entire regions, not just big cities.

Solutions are readily available today and affordable, so projects can be 'shovel-ready' at short notice.

In most cases renovation offers attractive returns just through energy-cost savings, without factoring in additional wider social benefits from improved air quality and healthier indoor environments.

Even low hanging-fruit is worthwhile.

The fashion retailer H&M, a member of the Climate Group's global EP100 initiative on smarter energy use, cut electricity use in stores by over 10 percent in three years.

The company reports saving over €120,000 from replacing 9,250 lightbulbs with LEDs and it has enrolled nearly 700 of its suppliers into energy efficiency programmes.

Renovation also offers an ideal opportunity to install solar panels and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, building in resilience to the impacts of a changing climate, such as heatwaves and flooding.

As well as getting the economy back on track, radical improvements in energy efficiency are fundamental to delivering on Europe's climate goals.

Buildings are the EU's single largest source of emissions, responsible for over a third of the bloc's total.

Most of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been built.

Around three-quarters of those standing now were constructed before energy performance legislation, and over a third are over 50 years old, with the oldest needing careful management to preserve European heritage.

Despite the clear case for faster renovation, the current rate is just one percent a year, with deep renovation at just 0.2 percent.

The EU wants these rates to at least double through the Renovation Wave. We would need to reach around 3 percent to have a realistic chance of meeting our climate goals, and each year of delay makes the challenge more intense.

We need a lot more insulation installed, as well as highly efficient heating and cooling systems. The good news is that concentrating our efforts magnifies the benefits.

There are significant economies of scale that can be achieved, something that became evident through deep retrofits of just a few thousand buildings during the Energiesprong programme.

Efforts to improve energy efficiency will support a boom in manufacturing for sustainable building products and energy technologies, as seen in China just over a decade ago.

Europe now has a golden opportunity to do the same for its local industry, becoming a powerhouse in buildings retrofit and creating valuable export opportunities.

Just another fairy tale?

Of course, if this is really going to be energy efficiency's glass slipper moment, it needs more than a little help from a fairy godmother. As much as we might wish it to be true, happily ever after doesn't happen by waving a magic wand.

Stronger regulation has an important role to play.

The Italian region of Lombardy is part of the Under2 Coalition of sub-national governments, of which the Climate Group is secretariat.

By introducing mandatory energy certification for new and renovated buildings, it has brought over 2.3 million buildings up to standard, helping to lower energy consumption per square meter by two-thirds. Now, part of its €3bn Covid-19 recovery fund will support even more of these projects.

There many other necessary policy changes that will help us to deploy energy efficiency rapidly and at scale. These range from technical assistance, skills training, and support for organisations, to tax breaks, enhanced access to finance, and resolving issues between landlords and tenants.

The Renovation Wave can help solve a lot of Europe's economic and environmental problems. It will provide healthier, more sustainable spaces to live and work, while accelerating low carbon industrial development.

But all this has been tried before without great success.

Unless there is serious commitment from policymakers, we risk the Green New Deal turning into a pumpkin.

Author bio

Jenny Chu is head of energy productivity initiatives at the Climate Group.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Roll out red carpet - or recycle it? Green Deal's EU blindspot

In Europe the rate of recycling carpet is shockingly low at 1-3 percent. Recyclers stay away from old carpets because they don't know which (potentially dangerous) chemicals they contain, or because they are very complex due to multiple materials used.

EU seeks to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030

The European Commission unveiled the EU's "renovation wave", aimed at doubling the renovation rate of existing buildings in the decade, and creating five new 'European Bauhaus' hubs across the EU, where architects and engineers can collaborate on green projects.

Building performance - win-win for climate and EU Commission?

Many regard Fit for 55 as the moment for European climate policy. However, wait just a little longer, as perhaps most crucial piece of legislation will be the revision of the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive in the autumn.

Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

Latest News

  1. EU rewards Tusk's Poland on rule of law with €137bn
  2. UK-EU relations defrosting ahead of near-certain Labour win
  3. EU paid Russia €420-per-capita for fossil fuels since war began
  4. After two years of war, time to hit Putin's LNG exports
  5. Creating the conditions for just peace in Ukraine
  6. Energy and minerals disputes overshadow new EU-ACP pact
  7. Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns
  8. How Amazon lobbyists could be banned from EU Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us