The European Green Deal must grasp the opportunity to kick-start buildings renovations, says Thibaud Voïta at the IFRI Center for Energy & Climate, summarising his report “The Renovation Wave: A Make or Break for the European Green Deal”. A lot of European buildings are old, and progress is slow. Stiffer regulations have helped, and household energy efficiency has risen by 30% since 2000. But the number of deep building renovations completed annually needs to quadruple. Voïta explains it’s an extremely complex sector to decarbonise, given the number of different buildings, regulations and actors at all levels, from the European to the local. Coordination is a major challenge. Add to that the lengthy processes, different lobbying groups, weak implementation of regulations, lack of knowledge or trust from tenants and home-owners, financing and technology issues. He gives his recommendations, including skills, technologies, materials, data collection, regulations, and more. It all needs to be backed up by leadership and coordination from the European level down to the local.
European buildings are old and too often inefficient, past policies have not delivered and the amount of investment into energy efficiency must be scaled up dramatically to meet the 2030 targets and ultimately, the carbon neutrality objective.
Building renovations are too slow and insufficient. The European Union (EU) and its Member States (MS) need to critically accelerate its efforts, for instance by multiplying by up to 4 the number of deep building renovations every year.
Difficult to kick-start
Why is the renovation market so difficult to kick-start? The sector is extremely complex, given the number of different buildings, regulations and actors, at all levels, from the European to the local one. This means that coordination of the different stakeholders is a major challenge.
In addition, building renovation policies may be slowed down by some of the traditional European weaknesses: lengthy processes, different interests of lobbying groups, weak implementation of the regulations, a lack of knowledge or trust from the tenant or home-owners, financing and technology issues, etc.
Some progress, European Bauhaus
There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic though. Regulations have accelerated energy efficiency investments in buildings over the past decade, despite the 2008 crisis, and altogether, household energy efficiency has improved approximately 30% since 2000. Some innovative and promising policies are being implemented in many countries.
The call of Ursula von der Leyen to establish a European Bauhaus points to new creative and efficient ways to promote building renovation across the continent.
Skills, technologies, materials
The construction sector needs clear signals on the future of the building renovation market in order to adapt its training strategies with less emphasis on new building and more on renovation. Lastly, the Renovation Wave cannot succeed without a sustained effort to ramp up skills and the number of qualified jobs in this sector, with state-of-the art technologies becoming a standard all across the EU, alongside the use of low carbon and ideally, sustainable renovation materials.
Strategy: leadership, coordination
To be more successful than previous attempts, the European strategy requires:
A stronger policy leadership and a better coordination at the European level with the generalisation of a “whole-of-government approach”, ensuring more coordination between the different departments and sectors that are/should be concerned with building renovation (health, climate change, jobs, etc.). This is crucial in order to better understand the benefits of building renovation and coordinate policies that will touch upon broader areas (such as smart cities, electrification).
More ambition and proactivity from member states. This would require:
- A strong acceleration of public buildings renovation;
- Better data collection and maintenance work, as well as monitoring, reporting and verification on the results of the existing programs;
- Better dissemination of key technologies such as passive houses, building information modelling, or district energy systems;
- More research and support policies on innovative approaches and tools such energy sufficiency.
A more efficient market regulation in order to help consumers better understand and benefit from renovation services, more specifically:
- The generalisation of “Building renovation passports”, using the Belgian “Woningpas”, French “Passeport Efficacité Energétique” or the German “Individueller Sanierungsfahrplan” as models. These are established, based on energy audits and quality criteria, and they provide long-term renovation roadmaps that can be used to plan deep renovations;
- Increase the role of local actors, that could play the role of “one-stop-shops” on building renovations: from cities to local energy communities. These would benefit from the creation of local agencies providing the dwellers with more tailored information on building renovation.
Finally, new approaches could be explored, such as zero-interest rate loans or mandatory building renovations.
Thibaud Voïta is Associate Research Fellow at the IFRI Center for Energy & Climate
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