What is energy efficiency?
Energy-efficient buildings ideally consume no more energy than is strictly necessary to keep the building "running. This means paying close attention to systems (such as a BMS, HVAC, or heat pump) that can save energy through recovery or reuse. A building's insulation also plays a big role in energy conservation. We speak of an energy-efficient building when the building emits less energy (CO2) than necessary to fulfill its use function.
Energy efficient buildings guidelines
The last few years have seen several deadlines imposed regarding the introduction of new decarbonization measures. But with the most high-profile of these – Net Zero by 2050 – decades away, it’s been hard to shake the concern that some feel too distant to prompt rapid transformational change.
So the recent announcement by the EU of a five-year timeframe for new measures affecting existing buildings is very welcome. Under the proposals detailed in December, existing buildings in EU countries will be legally required to meet minimum energy standards for the first time by 2027 in order to be sold or rented out.
At this point buildings will have to meet Category E requirements in the EU’s energy efficiency classification, which runs from A to G. To put this in perspective, a home in the least efficient category, G, would be expected to consume about 10 times more energy than a ‘nearly zero’ or ‘zero-emissions’ building. Currently, it is estimated that the 15% worst performing buildings in Europe would warrant a G rating (1).
While it’s only right that the most inefficient buildings receive priority attention, the regulations have implications for most current EU building stock. This is something readily admitted by the European Commission, which in 2020 asserted that around 75% of existing EU buildings are energy inefficient – defined as meaning that “a large part of the energy used goes to waste” (2).
In addition, while the initial change calls for a move to Category E, the draft directive stipulates that existing buildings would need to satisfy Category C requirements by January 2033. The bill is now out for consultation ahead of what will presumably be revision and voting stages later in 2022.
Some MEPs and green NGOs have voiced the opinion that the new measures do not go far enough (3). But even if they are implemented in their existing form, they surely open the way to a major new ‘call to action’ about improving energy efficiency in existing buildings. This is also welcome as it means the environmental case can be reinforced by a pressing financial one, too.
For example, it is likely that commercial landlords will want to take a very proactive approach if they are going to protect the value of their estates. For those leasing out office spaces, the pandemic and the ‘work from home’ trend have already impacted demand significantly. There is no question that future tenants will be seeking spaces that are highly cost- and energy-efficient. Business development is going to be much easier if you know that your premises are going to comply with energy regulations for decades to come. So a landlord who is slow to act on energy efficiency improvements could be facing a grim future indeed.
Fortunately, the rise of energy efficiency solutions that can be applied to existing buildings means that achieving massive improvements is much easier than it was even five years ago. In the second part of this blog, we’ll look at some of these technologies and find out how they can help building owners everywhere to meet the new energy requirements.