Opinion pieces

Energy efficient buildings: the insurance policy against high energy bills

The energy performance of buildings directive will lower energy bills, reduce Europe’s energy dependence and stimulate economic growth, writes Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe.

Ciarán Cuffe is a Green lawmaker and architect from Ireland. He is in charge of drafting the European Parliament’s stance on revising the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD).

A solution to ever-increasing energy prices that will bring down bills, reduce Europe’s energy dependence, and create hundreds of thousands of local jobs quite literally surrounds us: buildings.

Buildings are top energy consumers in the EU, accounting for 40% of energy demand and pumping out 36% of our C02 emissions.

Why? Because millions of buildings – seven out of 10 – are energy inefficient.

"As a result of this astonishing level of inefficiency, consumers and businesses across Europe lose enormous amounts of money every year. They are paying the price for inefficiency in sky-high energy bills and every day millions of euros are spent on energy that is simply going to waste. We cannot allow this situation to continue. We can stop this with a robust and ambitious energy efficiency policy for Europe’s building stock."

The energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD) aims to transform Europe’s buildings into a highly energy efficient stock by 2050. The agreement reached on the law in the industry and energy (ITRE) committee delivers on this potential and will be put to a vote by all MEPs next Tuesday in Strasbourg.

The Parliament’s negotiation position improves upon the European Commission draft, as it protects renters from high energy bills while requiring social safeguards, and protects building owners through cost neutral renovation schemes and financial support.

It is also a flexible plan that allows for derogations for residential buildings and exemptions, such as for historic buildings, according to renovation plans tailored to national circumstances.

Finally, it is the right plan for Europe to deliver hundreds of thousands of high quality, local jobs, reduce our energy dependence, and reach our climate goals.

A fair and realistic plan

It is often the poorest people who live in the buildings that are wasting the most energy (so-called ‘worst performing buildings’). They are, therefore, paying the highest energy bills as a result.

That’s why the European Parliament’s approach targets these buildings specifically, to bring down energy bills and tackle energy poverty.

By asking Member States to designate the worst performing 15% of their building stock as class ‘G’, we also ensure a fair distribution of responsibility among EU countries.

While we have increased the ambition level for renovations, we have also adopted stronger social protections such as safeguards against disproportionate rent increases or eviction.

There are also requirements for Member States to provide cost neutral renovation schemes, which means that renovations cannot cost more than can be saved through savings on energy bills.

For example, energy service companies (ESCOs) operating in most Member States cover upfront costs and facilitate renovations, while people profit from more efficient and comfortable homes.

Dedicated and sufficient funding for renovations should be provided from national and European funds. Information on subsidies and renovations, in general, is to be provided through independent and accessible One-Stop-Shops.

Member States must plan for a complete phase-out of fossil fuels from all buildings by 2035, while renewable energy and especially solar energy installations are boosted through requirements for buildings where this is technically and economically feasible.

Households are empowered to take control of their energy costs through solar installations that produce energy for free. Together with electric mobility charging devices and a framework allowing the use of cars as batteries, people can reduce bills and participate in the energy transition.

A flexible plan

Every EU country is different so we have created a flexible plan. Each EU country is tasked with developing a national renovation plan that suits its specific needs.

EU countries will be able to apply exemptions within their national renovation plans for historic buildings, religious buildings, small buildings, or buildings of temporary use.

EU countries can lighten the burden on residential property owners, who could benefit from additional time to abide by the new rules. They can also provide for exemptions – for example, if there is not enough workforce available to carry out renovations.

Derogations from renovation requirements for residential buildings are limited in time and scope. We must not lock certain groups, such as renters, into damp and cold buildings and deny them the opportunity to benefit from decent housing and lower energy bills.

The right plan for Europe

Europe must focus on energy efficiency and energy-saving measures. Buildings are the worst offender in this respect, and the EPBD is a golden opportunity to harness local renewables to gradually reduce energy bills, improve housing quality, cut energy import dependency and fight energy poverty.

Higher renovation rates and higher standards for new buildings will also have a multiplier effect on jobs and growth.

The EPBD will create hundreds of thousands of good quality, local jobs in the construction, renovation, and renewable industries, as the public and private sectors will need to invest. Small businesses will stand to gain, as well as the economy as a whole.

Furthermore, a significant reduction in gas consumption by Europe’s buildings is another blow to Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the European Parliament on the same day that a strong majority approved an EPBD deal in the ITRE committee. It was a reminder that we must not waver in our efforts to cut Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.  

In the EPBD agreement, the Parliament finds a fair and effective approach to creating a climate neutral building stock in Europe that lowers bills, reduces energy dependence, and creates hundreds of thousands of local jobs.

That is why this deal has the support of all the major political groups. I call on all of our colleagues in the European Parliament to support this deal in Tuesday’s vote in Strasbourg.


March 13, 2023

first published


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