As former US President Barack Obama once said: “insulation is sexy”. After all, what’s sexier than saving the planet? Improving energy efficiency (including through better thermal insulation in our buildings) is one way to put Europe on a more sustainable path.
Greater energy efficiency won’t be enough on its own (it will need to be coupled with investment in renewable energy and an overall reduction in the rate of consumption of natural resources), but it is nevertheless part of the plan to keep greenhouse gas emissions under control as a way to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Improving insulation across the continent is a key part of the European Green Deal. Partly, this is about ensuring tough insulation standards are adhered to when new buildings are constructed. However, it will also involve retrofitting existing buildings in a so-called “renovation wave”.
Over 35% of the existing building stock in Europe is over 50-years-old, and many of the buildings constructed before 1945 are largely uninsulated. The European Commission estimates these historic buildings could reduce their energy consumption by 15-20% with proper insulation. Not bad, considering that Europe’s buildings are responsible for roughly 40% of the EU’s energy consumption and 36% of its CO2 emissions.
Who will pay for this ‘renovation wave’? In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party campaigned during the 2019 General Election under a “Warm Homes For All” policy, which would have seen the lowest-income households receive insulation for free, while everyone else would be eligible to apply for an interest free loan to carry out the renovations. The scheme received criticism for being too optimistic in terms of timeframes and logistics, and Labour, of course, lost the election.
What do our readers think? We had a comment come in from Shaun, who would like to see new, tougher EU regulations requiring all new buildings in the EU be constructed with high levels of insulation as standard. Is he right?
To get a response, we also put Shaun’s comment to Paula Pinho from the European Commission, where she is Acting Director at Directorate A Energy Policy. What would she say?
For another perspective, we also spoke to Erkki Maillard, Senior Vice-President for European and International Affairs at the Électricité de France (EDF) Group, a French electric utility company and one of the largest producers of electricity in the world. How would he respond to Shaun’s comment?
Next up, we had a comment from Rémi, who does not see a market-based solution to improving the rate of home insulation in Europe. Is it up to governments to step in and invest in retrofitting existing homes? Or is this a job for the private sector?
How would Paula Pinho from the European Commission respond?
This is a very timely question because, in the framework of the ‘Green Deal’ which was announced by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, this was one of the areas which has been identified as a key area. We call it the ‘renovation wave’; we need to really put in place the conditions for the renovation of existing buildings to take place across Europe.
We have already spoken about new buildings and the standards that they need to comply with, but we also need to tackle existing buildings. There the Commission is working on bringing together all the actors who can play a role in the renovation and insulation of houses: bringing together possible investors, the private sector, industry, the construction sector, the association of municipalities, the association of condominia, to really see how we can best go about the renovation of existing houses and apartment buildings.
We do know that this needs to result from a combination of efforts, from lessons learned throughout Europe on how to best go about it. And this is precisely what we are now putting together, and we are preparing a communication on this – very much learning from existing practice – in the course of this year.
Should governments retrofit all houses with better insulation for free? Does the EU need tougher regulations so all new houses are well-insulated? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!