Europe’s Housing Stock Needs Energy Renovation

A concerted effort is needed to phase out inefficient buildings from the European building stock.
Published: Tue 28 Apr 2015

Europe’s building stock is the largest single energy consumer in the region, accounting for 40% of total final energy consumption in 2012 and responsible for 38% of the total CO2 emissions. Although energy efficiency policies have reduced the final energy consumption of the residential building stock by 2.5% since 2007, per capita energy consumption has increased, with dwellings becoming larger and households smaller in most European countries.

The main use in residential buildings in most EU countries is space heating. To reduce heating needs and their climate impact across Europe as well as the need for energy imports, there needs to be a building energy renovation: buildings need to be insulated, heating systems replaced by best available technologies and renewable energy solutions deployed where feasible – transforming buildings from being energy wasters to energy producers.

Energy renovation in buildings

According to a new report from the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) an EU renovation plan phasing out inefficient buildings from the European building stock while ensuring a sustainable economic recovery of the building sector is instrumental for reaching the 2020 climate goals. The plan should integrate the existing EU frameworks for growth and jobs, energy and climate as well as those related to cohesion policies.

The plan should adopt a regional approach, prioritizing less developed regions, especially those in member states with per capita GDPs below the EU average.

The plan would require a clear, coherent and decentralized governance structure, including an energy renovation facilitator. Prioritization of buildings to target first should be based on the EU 2020 targets in the areas of climate change, energy, growth, jobs and cohesion policies. Utility data on building energy performance should be unlocked and data on energy renovation costs made more transparent through the use of open-source portals. Mechanisms to bundle properties to renovate to make them bankable and to build clusters of accredited energy renovation companies need to be developed.

As part of the plan, a risk-sharing pool using EU cohesion policy funds and existing national funds would be needed to finance energy renovation where citizens cannot afford it themselves. In 2012 according to the report, 11% of Europe’s population were unable to keep their homes warm in the winter and 19% lived in dwellings they could not keep comfortably cool in the summer, and over 30% of the population in member states with per capita GDPs below the EU average faced fuel poverty.

Technological innovation

The JRC envisages that energy renovation would stimulate a new wave of technological innovation. To reduce the cost of deep renovation, there is a need to develop energy renovation ‘kits’ tailored to different construction periods, climatic zones and building types, ‘plug-and-play’ manufactured modular components and systems fully integrated with advanced 3D surveying techniques, and innovative insulation materials. New technologies will also be needed to enable building-to-building and building-to-grid energy interaction.

The report notes that in 2011, over 11 million people were directly employed in Europe’s building sector - five times more than in supplying of energy (gas, electricity and heat) to buildings for the same value added. Specialized construction activities including renovation work and energy retrofits account for two-thirds of the overall employment in the sector.

Further reading

JRC: Energy Renovation: The Trump Card for the New Start for Europe