Summary and Implications

In November 2008, the European Commission (EC) proposed revising the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (Directive 2002/91/EC) as part of its efforts to achieve the European Union's energy savings targets and tackle climate change. The proposal is currently going through the approval process of the European Parliament and Council. The EC is confident that the revised proposals will ensure sustainable investments and job creation (often in small to medium-sized enterprises), while it is predicted that the total EU energy consumption will be reduced by 5-6% by 2020. In order to strengthen the effectiveness and impact of the 2002 directive, the EC revised directive proposes to:

  • abolish the 1000m2 threshold when buildings undergo major renovation;
  • introduce minimum energy performance requirements for systems such as boilers, water heaters and air conditioning;
  • make specific requirements regarding the content of energy performance certificates;
  • provide for regular inspection and maintenance of boilers, heating and air conditioning systems;
  • require member states to draw up national plans for increasing the number of low or zero energy and carbon buildings.

Scope of the tougher directive

The scope of the directive will be immediately broadened so that when existing buildings undergo a major renovation (renovations which cover more than 25% of the building's surface), they will all be required to meet certain efficiency levels. Under the current directive, only those above 1000m2 are subject to this requirement.

Energy performance certificates will become an important legal requirement for all property across the EU. Certificates are to provide information regarding the energy needs of the building, the area of primary energy consumption, and details of carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, the certificate should provide energy saving recommendations. This information must be provided each time a property transaction occurs, as well as in all advertisements for sales or rentals.

Although the EC has not set any Europe-wide targets for low or zero energy buildings – defined by the MEPs as buildings "where, as a result of the very high level of energy efficiency of the building, the overall annual primary energy consumption is equal to or less than the energy production from renewable energy sources on site" – member states are urged to draw up national plans to increase the numbers of such buildings. The public sector is suggested to lead the investment in this area.

The financial implications

In terms of financial support mechanisms, the EC appears relatively mute, leaving it up to member states to put forward national action plans which may include instruments such as low-interest loans and fiscal rebates. Even so, Iain Wright, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, has highlighted that energy performance certificates and inspections of heating and air conditioning systems will have a considerable financial impact. The introduction of a common methodology to calculate cost-optimal levels of energy performance requirements will only deepen the financial burden.

While the responsibility to implement this directive falls heavily on member states, the EC has launched a "Build-Up" initiative designed to increase awareness among the government authorities, industry representatives, and citizens.

Effective implementation

The implementation of the EPBD has presented a substantial challenge for most, if not all of the EU's 27 member states. Most significantly, the EC launched court proceedings against the UK in 2008 for its failure to implement EU requirements stating how energy performance in buildings is measured. However, in some cases, UK law does go further than the minimum standards set out in the directive; for example by providing for the creation of a central government register of all energy certificates. In other cases the new directive will require government action. In any case, implementing the revised tougher directive will prove a challenge for every member state.