How to make buildings the driver of climate action
Katarzyna Wardal, EU Public Affairs Manager, Knauf Insulation
When it comes to saving energy, saving greenhouse emissions, and ultimately saving the planet, I am very fond of the expression: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
But to measure anything, you need harmonised standards, universally understood objectives, clear deadlines and a shared vision of what success looks like.
The goals of COP26 are clear. The imperative of 1.5ºC is inescapable. And the European Union’s ambition to be the first zero carbon continent by 2050 is admirable.
But how do we get there? Well, we need to start with buildings. Buildings are responsible for 36% of greenhouse emissions in Europe.
In the coming weeks there is a golden opportunity to put in place all the universal standards, objectives, deadlines and shared vision that will ensure buildings play a vital role in transformational climate action.
And that opportunity is embedded in the European Commission’s forthcoming revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).
Within this document are unmissable opportunities to decarbonise buildings.
For example, take new construction. Since the start of 2021 every new building must be a ‘Near Zero-Energy Building’. That ‘near’ has proved to be problematic with even the Commission concerned that EU countries need to “significantly step up their efforts”.
Set new Zero Energy Building standards
The solution? Set clear new ‘Zero Energy Building’ standards in the EPBD that create absolute maximum thresholds for heating and cooling energy needs of new buildings depending on clearly defined geographic climatic zones. At Knauf Insulation we have always advocated for subscribed to the concept that most sustainable energy is the energy we do not use.
Then, when it comes to renovating buildings, the EPBD must set legally binding national targets. And ensure these targets are defined in building stock energy savings per country in line with the 2030, 2040 and 2050 greenhouse emission objectives established in the National Long Term Renovation Strategies.
How will these targets be achieved? By setting high standards.
It is vital that any building renovation is carried out to produce the best possible results. The EPBD needs to set a “deep renovation” standard to be widely used across the continent so that every Member State has a dedicated financing scheme promoting quality renovations in a progressive way. The rule should be simple: the magnitude of financial support should be based on the level of measured energy savings achieved through renovation.
And this brings me to the crux of any renovation work, trust.
There needs to be an objective, independent audit assessment that shows whether any promises to reduce energy or emissions have been delivered and if technical assistance is available ultimately for all citizens to help them with planning and implementing renovation projects.
Introduce meter certification
To transform these words into action, the EPBD must establish a universal EU-wide certification scheme for building energy efficiency meters. There is enough technology, digital capacity and algorithms available now to accurately assess the energy-saving success of any building renovation. We just need to set a universal standard that ensures we all speak the same energy efficiency language.
A harmonised approach to assessing renovation success using energy efficiency meters would also open the door to allow existing Energy Performance Certificates to be issued based on demonstratable real performance and results, not formulaic assessment.
Energy Efficiency First
At Knauf Insulation we have consistently worked to reduce carbon emissions in buildings. When it comes to renovations that means reducing the carbon generated by the energy used to heat, cool, light and operate a building in line with Energy Efficiency First principle. It is the only way to secure multiple economic, social and environmental benefits at the same time.
We are fully aware that decarbonisation of the building stock requires the entire reduction of operational and embodied carbon emissions by 2050, as the built environment accounts for more than a third of measured emissions. And this means policymakers must also consider the introduction of carbon metrics for the building sector alongside Energy Efficiency First.
Get the carbon sequence right
The legislative framework for buildings must continue to be based on energy metrics. But, at the same time, we need to add harmonised carbon metrics to ensure a level-playing field for construction products and to avoid fragmented approaches across countries.
Two prerequisites are essential. First, ensure a science-based EU-wide methodology for measuring carbon based on EU standards EN15804+A2 and EN15978. This approach is already implemented in the Level(s) framework for sustainable buildings. Secondly, ensure that the right sequencing for applying carbon metrics in buildings is set separately for operational and embodied carbon.
At present it is challenging to establish milestones for the EU due to a lack of comprehensive data. The revision of the EPBD is the perfect opportunity to start collecting data about operational and embodied carbon according to pre-defined sequencing.
New public buildings and large non-residential buildings of more then 5,000 m² could serve as pioneers for recording data about operational carbon and new public buildings could be the right place to start with reporting on embodied carbon. Meanwhile, for renovations, pilots could be established in major renovation projects using a similar approach in terms of building types as front-runners.
Buildings are the low-hanging fruit of climate action. But to maximise the potential of any meaningful transformation we need to manage and measure energy efficiency and emissions as well as put Energy Efficiency First.
The revision of the EPBD is the perfect place to make a difference.