Buildings are at the heart of the European Union's (EU) strategy to combat climate change and create a more sustainable future. The significance of this sector extends to its role in achieving the EU's objectives related to energy consumption and GHG emissions reduction. However, recognizing that this transition isn't merely a technological shift, but deeply intertwined with human dimensions, is crucial.
The European Green Deal , the Renovation Wave Initiative , and the EU’s recovery plan place a strong emphasis on reductions in GHG emissions and energy use from buildings. The REPowerEU plan published by the European Commission in May 2022, which aims to end the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels while tackling the climate crisis, calls for additional savings and energy efficiency gains in buildings, particularly through the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (currently under negotation). It also introduces the European Solar Rooftop Initiative with a proposal for a legally binding EU solar rooftop obligation for certain categories of buildings.
Improvements to buildings, such as better insulation and decarbonised heating and cooling systems, can help reduce emissions from fossil fuel use. While often providing a lower-emitting alternative, heating systems such as heat pumps increase a building’s use of electricity. Unless this electricity demand is met by the production of renewable or decarbonised energy, this can lead to a sectoral shift in emissions from the buildings to the electricity sector. The energy consumption in buildings is also influneced by varying annual weather patterns, which has a direct effect on GHG emissions.
What the data is telling us:
- The CO2 emissions from the building sector in the EU-27 represented 35% of its total emissions in 2021. Buildings are also responsible for the highest share of the total PM2.5 emissions representing 61% that same year.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from EU buildings decreased by 31% between 2005 and 2021. This progress was driven by higher energy efficiency standards for new buildings, energy efficiency improvements in existing buildings, decarbonisation of the electricity and heating sectors, and warmer temperatures.
- The building sector is a major energy consumer in the EU-27 with 42%. In absolute value energy consumption in buildings tend to be stable.
- Over the last decade the highest share of emissions and energy consumption in buildings was attributed to the residential sector.
- The residential energy consumption was dominated by space heating that represented in average 64% of the total residential energy used in the period between 2018 and 2021.
- Over 50% of this consumption was based on fossil fuels. Highlighting opportunities of decarbonisation in heating systems based on new technologies such as heat pumps ro district heating/cooling system.
- Importantly, implementing energy renovation also include renovating the envelop of buildings (insulation) and consider the change in climate to improving energy efficiency in buildings in all types of buildings. It goes for instance through the increasing number of Near Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) and the use of buildings to produce energy (e.g.: roof top solar PV and solar thermic panels).
- Climate mitigation and energy efficiency in buildings might also bring social output such as decreasing population not able to afford to keep their homes at a suitable temperature. Indicators depicting facets of energy poverty have been on a downward trend for the past years, with geographic variations, but witnessed a surge as a result of the energy crisis that unfolded in 2021 and 2022.