In Europe, buildings account for around 40% of all energy consumed and more than seven out of ten buildings are energy inefficient. This means that a large part of the energy used for heating and lighting goes to waste, increasing energy consumption and costs. If the European Union is serious about tackling climate and social justice, addressing energy efficiency in buildings is one of the most critical tasks ahead. 

The main legal instrument of the European Union to make energy efficiency in buildings a reality and alleviate energy poverty is Directive 2010/31/EU (“Energy Performance of Buildings Directive” or “EPBD”). This legal text provides for a comprehensive and integrated approach towards improving the efficient use of energy in both new and existing buildings, residential as well as commercial. This week the European Parliament will vote on the implementation report of this directive and, on the same day, the European Commission will publish its proposal for a revision. The EPBD’s provisions cover energy needs for thermal insulation, space and hot water heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting.

This all sounds pretty straightforward. But like many other things, it’s not. 

Here are five key reasons why energy efficiency and renovations cannot just be a prerogative of landlords but should be treated as fundamental to alleviating energy poverty.  

1. Energy efficiency is the most effective solution to alleviate energy poverty

Today, if you are lucky enough to live in an energy efficient home, your consumption and bills will be lower and greener. What happens if you can’t afford renovations? You are locked into using more energy, most probably coming from more expensive fossil fuels, and paying higher bills. A new study by Cambridge Econometrics (more information on the Right to Energy coalition website) shows a reduction in household energy bills by over €400 per year after a deep renovation. In the EPDB, energy efficiency is treated from the point of view of business, of revenues for those who can invest and spend, but if the advantages of home renovation only go to those who already have money, all this will be useless: workers and residents will continue to have difficulties with their bills and the planet will continue to suffer from the botched decisions of a ruling class incapable of thinking about the future. 

2. Energy poverty is a real problem

“Energy poverty” is not simply a buzzword used by European officials in speeches and statements. Energy poverty is a reality for millions of people living in Europe and it will not be solved by simply name-checking it. According to the Right to Energy Coalition, over 50 million people currently live in energy poverty, having to choose between heating their homes and having food on the table. This number is set to skyrocket in light of the current gas crisis. Europe’s inefficient and unhealthy housing stock is among the main causes of energy poverty and our overconsumption of energy. Damp, mouldy housing contributes to a catastrophic public health burden of over €194 billion, and is linked to over 100,000 premature deaths per year

3. Energy efficiency is not about financial investment. It’s about people’s lives and health! 

Unfortunately, energy efficiency is getting hijacked by powerful interests across Europe, treating it as an opportunity for investments to increase the financial value of buildings. The focus on market-oriented measures results in renovations prioritising the most simple and safest – from a financial point of view – investments such as changing the heating system. The most important and complex improvements however, such as the renovation of the thermal envelope which includes things like roofs, windows and façades will be overlooked. The preference for the most profitable investments does nothing to improve the life of the most vulnerable people living in the worst-performing buildings, who often do not have resources to finance the necessary deep renovation. 

4. Electric cars for everyone!? 

As good as this sounds, it illustrates the skewed focus of this directive towards the rich affluent segments of society, disregarding the needs of those living in energy poverty. The report treats buildings as enablers for increased mobility using  electric vehicles, classifying investments in charging points in buildings as priority. Given the exorbitant price of electric vehicles, and considering that around 80% of cars in the EU “sleep on the street”, one cannot avoid asking who is going to benefit from all these new charging points? 

5. There can be no climate justice without energy efficiency 

As we grapple with soaring energy prices facing people across Europe with massive energy bills, we cannot think of tackling the climate crisis without social justice. The revision of the EPBD has the potential to boost renovations in the residential sector, improve living conditions for millions of Europeans as well as decarbonising our society and economy while creating local, good quality jobs. In order to do so however, alleviating energy poverty must be the number one objective of policy solutions regulating energy efficiency.  

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