Prepare tomorrow’s buildings today: energy efficiency opportunities

Don't waste the opportunity of energy efficiency

Aerial view of buildings with green roofs
Aerial view of buildings with green roofs – Energy efficiency. Photo by Chuttersnap on Unsplash.

Europe is behind schedule to meet its own targets on buildings energy efficiency. According to the IEA, only half of the Member States lowered residential energy demand significantly between 2000 and 2019. Actually, in 2019 the EU’s global energy consumption started rising again for the first time since 2014, as even the European Court of Auditors recently lamented. This happened despite a clear legal framework calling for a steep reduction in emissions and energy demand to reach climate neutrality by 2050. 

Failing to deliver on energy efficiency is highly problematic for the future of climate action. But it’s also regretful for the macro-economic opportunities Europe is wasting when it does not walk the talk about it. 

Create jobs and improve quality of life

There are indisputable benefits to a well-designed energy efficiency retrofit policy for buildings. UNEP estimates that every million dollars invested in deep renovation could create up to 30 jobs in the construction sector. That would add up to the 400,000 to 4,000,000 jobs that transitioning away from fossil fuels would create. 

Besides, the European Commission reckons that EU energy efficiency targets could save 30bn cubic meters of gas per year. In the context of the current gas price crisis, this means each European could save more than 120 euros per year at the price gas reached in January. Or, in other words, Europeans could save more than €50bn in total. Clearly, this is good for the economy, employment, and housing quality. So, ultimately, it’s good for European’s quality of life. 

Decarbonise heavy industry and boost clean innovation

Improving energy efficiency is also relevant for industrial products and processes, as it holds the potential to reduce the building stock’s carbon footprint significantly. This is very relevant, given that half of the worldwide material extraction is for buildings and that more than 10 per cent of global energy consumption goes to the production of construction and renovation materials.  Indeed, embedded emissions hold enormous untapped potential to save emissions while improving heavy industry competitiveness. 

A solid action to reduce industrial energy intensity would also create jobs. According to the IEA, up to 18 jobs for every million dollars invested in industrial efficiency. But it doesn’t stop there. It would also save operation costs, incentivise circularity, and boost clean innovation. So, a mix of technological upgrades, better practices, and structural reform of industrial processes could increase energy efficiency between 35 and 55 per cent by 2050, depending on the region of the globe. 

Moving forward

The next couple of years will see a unique alignment of policy stars. As the European Union progresses to implementing the EU Green Deal in a context of sustainable recovery from the pandemic, there will be multiple policy opportunities and strong political momentum. The discussion about updating the Energy Efficiency Directive is high on the agenda. And will allow operationalising the Energy Efficiency First principle. 

Most of the European levers to significantly increase energy efficiency are jointly under revision. So,  let’s not forget the need to improve the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. This legislation is critical to go from ambition to deliver a just climate transition with a robust set of Minimum Energy Performance Standards and to step up the Renovation Wave at pace.

The energy price crisis made all EU citizens painfully aware of the need to lower our energy use and phase out expensive fossil fuels. So let’s rise to the challenge and harness the opportunities of energy efficiency.

This blog is part of a blog series:

  1. Part 1: Prepare tomorrow’s buildings today: energy efficiency opportunities
  2. Part 2: Prepare tomorrow’s buildings today: heating and cooling transition
  3. Part 3: Prepare tomorrow’s buildings today: implement the circularity strategy