A sense of direction – pathway for the future of European policy

Despite uncertainty around Brexit, there seems to be a greater sense of policy direction for energy, emissions and buildings, says Hywel Davies

The ‘Clean Energy for All Europeans’ package, published last November, sets out a pathway for the future of European policy on the promotion of renewables, energy performance of buildings, and the design of electricity markets. It includes, as one of several legislative initiatives, proposals for a review of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

In October, the UK government published its Clean Growth Strategy, setting out its plans to improve energy efficiency in the UK building stock, reduce energy use and costs in business, and help to meet the ambitious targets set by the fifth carbon budget.

Although UK carbon emissions have fallen by 40% from 1990 levels, the fifth carbon budget – due to run from 2028 to 2032 – requires a reduction of 57% relative to 1990. In 27 years, we have reduced emissions by 1.5% a year; we have around 14 years to reduce them by a further 17%.

As the UK government acknowledged in the Clean Growth Strategy, ‘to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, we will need to drive a significant acceleration in the pace of decarbonisation and, in this strategy, we have set out stretching domestic policies that keep us on track to meet our carbon budgets.’

As buildings are the single largest energy consumer in Europe – using around 40% of aggregate energy demand – it is no surprise that they are at the centre of efforts to reduce demand and associated emissions.

Given the requirements of the UK’s Climate Change Act – which is home grown, not European – and our commitments to the Paris Agreement, the UK must redouble its efforts to improve the energy performance of its buildings, whether we are in the EU or out.

Revision of the EPBD is, therefore, far from an academic exercise in the corridors of Brussels. The European Council agreed its position on the revision in June, aiming to promote energy efficiency in buildings and support cost-effective renovation, to decarbonise the existing European building stock, which is highly inefficient. This will be a major contributor to meeting the EU’s 2020 and 2030 energy efficiency targets.

In October, the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) adopted its formal report on the review of the Directive, which seeks to strengthen some of the measures. Negotiations between the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission are now progressing under the Estonian presidency, with the aim of reaching agreement by Christmas.

 The UK must redouble its efforts to improve the energy efficiency of its buildings

As one aspect of the proposal requires member states to establish long-term renovation strategies and to address energy poverty, the Clean Growth Strategy looks particularly timely, and would be needed whether or not the UK had chosen to leave the EU.

Another feature of the revised Directive is ‘the promotion of electro-mobility’ – requiring at least one charging point and pre-cabling for every third parking space for electric vehicles in non-residential buildings, and pre-cabling for every parking space in residential buildings – to apply to all buildings with more than 10 parking spaces.

This has implications for electrical designs, and it is anticipated that the wiring regulations will be updated accordingly. Again, there is a synergy with recent UK Budget announcements on electric-vehicle infrastructure.

The proposals will also introduce a ‘smartness readiness indicator’ (SRI) for buildings, which seeks to encourage making new buildings more ready for digital and smart technologies. Details of what the SRI will involve are sketchy, and there is the potential to create a new design gaming activity, to maximise the rating of a new design against the SRI.

Finally, it is proposed to simplify the system of inspection of heating and air conditioning systems. At this stage, it appears that the current approach of information campaigns will no longer be allowed. It is suggested that remote monitoring may be allowed in place of physical inspections, and that there should be a focus on larger buildings, with new thresholds proposed.

While this is an EU Directive, it will probably come into force before the UK leaves the European Union, so is likely to be included in the provisions of the Withdrawal Bill. It is also clear that, on the issue of energy, emissions and buildings, the UK and the EU are co-travellers on a journey to a decarbonised low-emissions future – and this is not dependent on the ongoing negotiations over Brexit.

In this area, we have a degree of clarity about what needs doing, and Journal readers have the knowledge and skills to deliver the proposed measures. If we are serious about the fifth carbon budget, we really have no choice.