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JRC report examines energy efficiency in buildings

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EU policy on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) in the area of buildings is vital in order to ensure that environmental improvements are made, says a report from the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC). Previous research by the JRC has shown that energy consumption during the use phase of buildings is by far the most important factor to take into account for the life cycle environmental impacts of buildings, and that residential buildings are responsible for 27% of final energy demand in the EU.

The Report addresses building codes and standards as being increasingly used to define minimum performance requirements concerning environmental issues, especially the energy use and the energy efficiency of buildings. It predicts that the inclusion of minimum energy performance requirements into building codes and standards will lead to substantial energy-savings. It argues, however, that the introduction of minimum performance requirements tends to only eliminate worst practice rather than to ‘drive best practice’.

The Report also identifies the ‘Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’ (EPBDi). This includes obligations regarding minimum performance requirements and energy certificates. More specifically, the EPBD requires establishing a methodology for calculating the energy performance of a building, minimum standards for energy quality of buildings to be determined by Member States, certification for buildings to make energy consumption levels visible and inspection of boilers and air-conditioning systems. An OECD/IEA report says that thus far the EPBD is the instrument with most potential impact on energy efficiency in existing residential buildings in the short and medium terms. A number of countries have transposed the Directive, but a large number are still lagging behind, according to the Report.

The Directive on the Eco-Design of Energy-Using Products (also called Eco-Design Directive or EuP Directive) is the most relevant existing EU policy instrument allowing for regulation regarding the energy performance of individual building elements. Building elements like windows, floors, walls, or roofs however are not concerned by the current version of the Eco-Design Directive. A recast of the Eco-Design Directive is, however, being prepared, and the European Commission has proposed to broaden the scope of the directive by including also energy-related products. First proposals suggest covering elements such as water-using devices, building insulation materials, and windows. There is also the intention to complement the revised Eco-Design Directive with labelling schemes, such as through a revised EU Eco-Label Regulation.

For example, the Member States have to ensure that there are sufficient incentives for ESCOs, energy consultants or energy advisors to offer and implement energy services, energy audits and energy-efficient improvement measures. The Directive also asks for the dissemination of information on energy efficiency mechanisms and financing options. The Member States shall as well ensure that qualification, accreditation and certification schemes are available for providers of energy services, or energy audits. The impact of the Directive will greatly depend on the specific implementation and the ambition of single Member States.

The main gap identified in the Report’s assessment is that EU instruments do not yet aim at the retrofitting of individual elements of the building envelope that show low thermal performance compared with the best available (or even average new) technologies on the market. It says that the Commission’s proposal to broaden the scope of the Eco-Design Directive from energy using to energy-related products is an opportunity for defining minimum performance requirements for building envelope elements like windows or insulation materials.

The Report is available here: