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The EU has strong environmental ambitions and buildings must be at the center of any efforts to reduce power consumption and decarbonize EU economies. In 2010, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) set a strong direction for the full decarbonization of the European building stock by 2050 through its 2010/31/EU. The building is evolving quickly however and the updated directive has brought a new set of challenges for member states.

The amended text (2018/844) of the EPBD was published in the Journal of the European Union on 19 June 2018 and entered into force on 9 July 2018. It requires every Member State must transpose changes into national law by 10 March 2020, providing a defined goal for Member States and the tools to achieve it. However, implementation of such directives is rarely a straightforward task.

In an effort to overcome implementation strategies and aid national governments within the EU, Belgium-based think-tank Building Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) published its ‘Future-proof buildings for all Europeans – A guide to implement the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’ paper last month, on May 16th. The guidance addresses various aspects of the Directive, offering Member States a comprehensive toolkit to meet the decarbonization challenge.

The BPIE guide supports policymakers to develop and agree on effective instruments which will lead to healthy and climate-friendly buildings for all citizens. This new guide includes useful practice examples from around Europe and covers long-term renovation strategies, financing renovation and calculating energy performance as well as energy performance certificates and a smart readiness indicator to navigate the EPBD’s three new key smart building functionalities.

The 2018/844 amendments categorize the smart readiness of buildings as those that can:

  • 1. Maintain energy performance and operation of the building through the adaptation of energy consumption, for example through use of energy from renewable sources.
  • 2. Adapt its operation mode in response to the needs of the occupant while paying due attention to the availability of user-friendliness, maintaining healthy indoor climate conditions and the ability to report on energy use.
  • 3. Enable participation in active and passive as well as implicit and explicit demand response in relation to the grid, for example through flexibility and load shifting capacities of a building’s overall electricity demand.

The BPIE’s smart readiness indicator breaks that down into 10 clear principles that should be in place to effectively achieve the transition to smart buildings (page 56). First and foremost, they state, is seizing the low-hanging fruit of potential energy savings through maximizing the exploitation of energy efficiency technology and approaches. Increasing use of local renewable energy, developing energy storage capacity, incorporating demand response, then decarbonizing heating and cooling, make up the first five smart building principles to deliver real benefits for Europe’s citizens.

The new EPBD amendments also revise the calculation methodology used to assess and describe the energy performance of buildings. The aim of these changes is to increase transparency and consistency of building performance metrics. Annex I of the amended text states that it is important to take due account of the quality of the indoor environment. It states that the energy needs “shall be calculated in order to optimize health, indoor air quality and comfort levels”.

“Using multiple indicators to describe the energy performance of a building is necessary to
avoid providing a misleading picture of the impact of various measures,” says the BPIE guide. “One shortcoming of relying solely on a single primary energy indicator is that a better energy performance could be achieved by simply switching the energy supply of a building to renewable energy. However, doing so undermines the real benefits of improving the fabric of the building.”

The BPIE paper highlights thermal comfort in this regard, which is best achieved by improving the quality of the building envelope (uniform surface temperatures, fewer drafts, more daylighting, etc.). Pointing out that indicators of the energy needs for heating and cooling as well as total primary energy, are required to avoid wasteful use of energy and realize the full multiple benefits of a thermally more energy efficient building fabric. Chapter 5 continues by breaking down the technical aspects of this concept, helping support policy implementation of this progressive European building directive.

Environmental responsibility is at the forefront of EU strategy in the ramping up towards climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement. Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions. On average we spend 90% of our time indoors and the quality of the indoor environment affects our health and wellbeing. Two-thirds of the European building stock was built before 1980 with a renovation rate of just 0.4-1.2% per year. According to the BPIE, about 97% of the EU’s buildings will need to be upgraded to achieve the 2050 decarbonization goals.

“A more efficient, technically equipped and smarter building stock could be the cornerstone of a decarbonized energy system,” states Belgium-based think-tank Building Performance Institute Europe (BPIE).

“Buildings have the potential to be at the forefront of providing flexibility to the energy system, through energy production, control, storage and demand response, as well as green charging stations for electric vehicles,” the BPIE continues. “This can only happen if a systemic upgrade of the building stock is achieved.”