Blog post by Adrian Joyce
The Central and Eastern European Region: Front line of the renovation battle
In the middle of roaring war in Ukraine and skyrocketing energy prices, the emergency to renovate a leaky EU building stock responsible for up to 40% of our energy consumption is more obvious than ever. It is time to stop beating around the bush and take drastic measures to improve the performance of our buildings and renovation presents itself as the only sustainable option to tackle the ongoing energy security crisis and strengthen the EU’s resilience and independence towards geopolitical or other factors.
Especially affected by this current dramatic scenario is the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region. With various countries sharing borders with a land at war and considering their huge dependency on Russian fossil fuel imports, energy efficiency measures become key to ensure not only the security of the area but also the living conditions of its citizens, ensuring homes that are comfortable, healthy and energy efficient.
In a context where the energy policy debate is at the highest point at EU level, with both the REPowerEU Plan and a Fit for 55 Package (containing key legislation such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive), it is our duty to further emphasise the need for energy renovations to take central stage if we want to achieve our 2030 climate targets and climate neutrality goal by 2050 together with independence from Russian fossil fuel by 2030.
The ball is in our court, and we can either smash it, by tackling the issue right now, or we can let it slip away, and lament in the years to come not taking the ambitious approach when we had the chance. It is therefore essential that a key element like ambitious Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) is given the prominence it deserves to become the driver of energy renovation actions moving forward. In their design it is imperative they cover the full building stock with 2030 as a first milestone to measure progress. Ambitious MEPS together with a well-grounded definition of deep renovation including primary and final energy consumption to express energy needs, and consistently referring to the achievement of Zero-Emission Building (ZEB) status would put us in a good position and empower us to face the challenges ahead.
But, what about the CEE?
If we turn our focus towards the CEE region Member States and look at the various measures that governments are using to increase renovation rates, we see great disparity on the degree of relevance given to the matter with countries (like Croatia and Slovakia) proving to be quite ambitious while others (Hungary and Poland) taking time to get going.
Some positives we can extract from the area are its efforts into the renovation of multi-family residential buildings (in countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, and Romania), the holistic renovation approach expected (Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia) and the integration of digitalisation into renovations (Czechia, Slovakia, and Slovenia).
Unfortunately, although there is progress in some departments, it is mostly challenges related to clear advice, financing, and availability of qualified workforce that the region is facing. The needs to leverage private capital and more market-based financing mechanisms to complement public funding, strengthening action on upskilling and technical assistance, and introducing clear and detailed references to the Energy Efficiency First Principle in the national renovation schemes are a few of the areas towards which CEE governments should direct their attention.
This room for improvement evidences the need to couple the current relief measures put forward by all EU countries (not only the CEE region) to tackle the rising energy prices and its subsequent burden to companies and citizens alike, heavily relying on subsidies, with purposeful and needed investment in energy renovation measures. That is the only solution to avoid finding ourselves in the same conflict in the future.
With more investment being channelled through this longer-term mindset, many of the mentioned obstacles in the region could be appropriately tackled. Mortgage Portfolio Standards (MPS), setting up an EU Renovation Loan, and accelerating the development of new financial products and services for renovation, by bringing together financial institutions, the supply chain, civil society, and government, are mechanisms that should be more intensively thought of to attract private finance.
Equally important is increasing investment in skills and technical assistance as these are essential to scale up renovations, and the fact is that various good examples are already set up in the CEE. The CraftEDU in Czechia, the Train-to-NZEB and Fit-to-NZEB (present in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia and Romania) are successful upskilling programmes that could be further replicated in other countries. So is the current prevision from Member States such as Croatia and Slovakia to open up more one-stop-shops should be an approach that should be more extensive in the area.
All these issues among many others relevant in scaling up the rate and depth of renovations to reinforce the EU’s energy security, boost our economies, and ensure a more sustainable future will be on the spotlight during the upcoming C4E Forum, co-organised by the Renovate Europe Campaign and Buildings for the Future, taking place next 23-26 May in Slovakia.
In other words, the ideas and the tools are there, now it is up to all decision makers and all of us, relevant stakeholders, to truly show that the Renovation Wave is one that we want to safely surf and arrive comfortably to the shore.
About the author:
Adrian Joyce, Director of the Renovate Europe Campaign, which has 49 partners from all segments of the construction sector, Adrian Joyce is also Secretary General of EuroACE, a European industry association gathering 15 of the leading product and equipment manufacturing companies in the construction sector. An architect by training with 18 years practice before taking up policy work in Brussels, he is a part-time Professor of Architecture at Louvain-le-Neuve, Belgium. Among other roles, he was Chair of the Coalition for Energy Savings, which represents around 15 million EU citizens through its members, from May 2017 to December 2020.