With the new EPBD the Commission aims to put buildings on track for climate neutrality, but does it tick all the boxes?

In the final wave of 2021 legislative proposals meant to implement the EU’s climate objectives, the Commission put forward its draft for the new Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) aimed at making buildings fit for the planned 55% of greenhouse gas reductions by 2030.

Buildings are indeed a major part of the issue as they account for about 36% of EU emissions. And unlike the power sector which saw strong rates of decarbonisation in recent years, buildings cannot be addressed centrally as they are owned by a multitude of private and public actors of varying sizes, suffering from split incentives when it comes to energy renovations. This means that most buildings in the EU, about 75%, are energy inefficient.

While new buildings already have to be highly efficient according to previous versions of the EPBD, this new proposal goes a step further with an obligation for new buildings to be zero-emission by 2030 (even 2027 for public ones).

But tackling new builds is not enough. Keeping in mind that about 85-95% of buildings existing today will still be there in 2050, a stronger push for renovations is urgently needed. The Commission has responded to this urgency with some new provisions.

Minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) will apply to existing buildings, which will have to achieve at least an energy performance class F by 2027 for non-residential buildings and by 2030 for residential ones, while class G will have to correspond to the 15% worst performing buildings in each country.

The new MEPS will require lots of energy renovations and this EPBD reinforces the Long Term Renovation Strategies, which are now called the National Building Renovation Plans. Member states will have to plan for all their buildings to become zero-emission by 2050 and give a detailed reporting of how they will address their building stock’s emissions.

Fortunately, this includes measures “addressing skills gaps and mismatches in human capacities, and promoting education, training, upskilling and reskilling” in relevant sectors. EuropeOn has made this point central in its exchanges with EU institutions, raising awareness of the need to include workforce and skills components in decarbonisation strategies. Assessing and addressing these gaps will be crucial  in order to plan for a smooth transition and ensure there are no bottlenecks ahead. Indeed, the prosumer model, where buildings produce their own energy (which zero-emission buildings will have to do), will have to be mainstreamed to achieve the planned decarbonisation and require more electrical installers with modern skills than what is available today. In the future, electrical contractors will be the ubiquitous decarbonisation professionals that will be on everyone’s speed dial. As an increasing number of energy end-uses become electrified, they will be constantly solicited for installations, maintenance and advice.

Indeed, this proposal also includes strengthened requirements for the installation of charging points in buildings and for the pre-cabling of parking spaces. As personal mobility is already on track for mass electrification, EuropeOn has previously raised awareness about the need to make our buildings charging-ready. Electrical contractors have been increasingly called upon to ensure the installation and functioning of charging infrastructure and have witnessed the hurdles faced by consumers in buildings that don’t feature any pre-cabling.

Similarly, electrical contractors are convinced that building automation can contribute to increasing building efficiency and flexibility and work well with prosumer installations. EuropeOn has been calling for stronger BACS requirements, which will be mandatory for more buildings according to this proposal. Further, EuropeOn has also made it clear that BACS and digital installations can produce useful data, enabling electrical professionals to offer more energy services to consumers which lead to even more energy savings and lower bills. The Commission has heard this argument and introduced new provisions to make building data available to owners and relevant third parties.

In this new paradigm, ushered in by new legislation such as this proposed EPBD, electrical contractors will become the central workforce for our energy usage. As the prosumer model takes hold, systems and consumers will increasingly count on their expertise, skills and availability to keep things running, whether it is single devices or profitable energy services that consumers and contractors can offer.

However, EuropeOn has been calling for a central element of buildings’ energy performance to be taken into account in the EPBD: electrical systems and wiring. Electrical contractors who are on the ground, putting in place these prosumer systems often have to deal with outdated electrical systems, which make installations difficult or costly. In some cases, installation of green and electric devices can become a fire hazard if the underlaying electrical installation is too old, especially when consumers undertake DIY installations. The EPBD could address this issue by explicitly including electrical systems in its definition of ‘Technical building systems’ or mandate electrical inspection regimes across the EU to ensure systems are up to the task.