EU parliament adopts new report on Buildings, contributing to the current reflection on the Renovation Wave

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) send a strong signal

On the 6th of July, the EU Parliament’s committee for Industry, Research and Energy adopted its position on the Renovation Wave. It should be voted in plenary session in September, probably before the Commission will present its own proposal Strategy, scheduled for September too. Then, from October onwards, Member States will submit to the Commission their national “Recovery and Resilience plans” which will have to include objectives regarding renovations rates and the buildings’ contribution to climate-neutrality.

MEPs sent a strong signal of unity with this vote: they succeeded in drafting a single compromise amendment encompassing the whole text and they adopted it with a vast majority. This is a very comprehensive report, from the energy efficiency first principle to support for the deployment of (on site) renewables, from skilling programmes to digitalisation, from smart homes to integration of e-mobility, from supporting electric heat pumps to better taking SMEs into account, and so on. With this report, MEPs clearly expressed that the Renovation Wave must be central for recovery, jobs creation and decarbonization.

Construction and renovation account for a major share of electrical contractors’ activity: during the whole life-cycle of a building they come back to do maintenance, safety checks, renovate electrical systems, install solar panels, smart meters, electric heat-pumps, charging points for electric vehicles, as well as automation and control devices to improve energy efficiency and demand-side flexibility. 

More and more, electricians’ work becomes integrators’ work, by connecting all smart devices in the built environment to improve energy management and the comfort of inhabitants, pupils, workers, patients or customers. Their jobs are becoming more varied and better skilled.

Accounting for about 36% of the bloc’s GHG emissions, buildings must be addressed with urgency if the EU is to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. A Renovation Wave initiative has the potential to play a significant role to relaunch our economy locally, through labour-intensive projects which involve SMEs and independent workers, all the while contributing to the EU’s climate objectives and improving quality of life in the built environment.

EuropeOn’s take on the Renovation Wave

For all these reasons, EuropeOn and its members have expressed recommendations regarding the necessary push for electric systems renovation, skills and digitalisation.

Indeed, the current lockdown measures have highlighted the crucial role electrical devices and connectivity infrastructures play in our daily lives. In many regions and countries of Europe, electrical systems of single buildings need to be renovated for both safety and capacity reasons. A large share of multi- and single-occupancy buildings have been built after the Second World War and their electrical systems have not benefited from deep renovations since then. The original electrical systems and wiring are ageing and were not meant for the quantity of electrical devices found in today’s buildings.  While some building owners will do some renovations, electrical systems are often the “forgotten systems” because it is both costly and highly disruptive for the occupant.  In terms of safety, a recent survey from the Forum for European Electrical Domestic Safety (FEEDS) showed that electrical fires account for 25-30% of all domestic fires, an increase of 5 -10% in the last 10 year. This increase seems linked to ageing systems. In terms of capacity, the renovation of electrical systems should be prioritised because it is a prerequisite to make buildings a hub for smart sector integration. Indeed, modern and capable electrical systems are paramount to the decarbonisation of the building stock and to NZEBs, but also to the renewables targets and transport decarbonisation targets. This is how buildings will be able to move from being a climate problem to a climate resource and solution. Though the renovation of electric systems is not specifically addressed at this stage in the Parliament’s report, it is not excluded either and EuropeOn as well as its members will keep on raising awareness on this crucial aspect.

EuropeOn’s concern for new skills, highlighted by our Skills4Climate campaign, has been widely taken into account by the Parliament. MEPs are very much in favour of renewed skilling programmes, with a focus on the Just Transition Fund (which will support re-skilling), digitalisation and gender equality. In particular, the Parliament “calls on the Commission to launch an EU skills and information initiative in the renovation and building sector (…), underlines that ensuring quality, compliance, and safety requires adequate competencies and skills of professionals involved during the design and construction/renovation including intermediaries, such as installers, architects or contractors”.

There are other good news for electrical contractors in this report. In particular, EuropeOn welcomes the support of MEPs to a pan-European Solar rooftop programme, which would substantially increase the share of renewables in the electricity mix while relying on electrical contractors for safe installation, operation and maintenance. Furthermore, they support the implementation of scrapping schemes to replace fossil fuel heating devices and inefficient appliances with more efficient ones.

What’s next?

As mentioned above, the Renovation Wave discussion will continue after summer: Parliament is expected to vote again on this report, this time in plenary session. Then, the Commission will present its own proposal.

EuropeOn’s main concern at this stage is that EU institutions might not find the necessary funding to make of this initiative a real game changer for decarbonization and recovery (see other news). So far, the Commission has remained quite vague on this topic, while the Council divided cut the InvestEU scheme by 80%. The Parliament’s committee for Industry, Research and Energy took a bold step by supporting the creation of a dedicated fund for Renovation, but will it be followed by a concrete proposal from the Commission?

Over the past few months – and especially since the beginning of the Covid crisis – EU policymakers have been presenting the Renovation Wave as a central remedy to some of Europe’s most pressing concerns: climate change, socio-economic crisis, life quality. In order to match this ambition, there will be need for equally concrete and financed actions.

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