MEPS: A fair and innovative framework to decarbonise Europe's buildings

By Ciarán Cuffe, MEP, EPBD lead negotiator Greens/EFA (pictured)
Summer 2023

Prioritising upgrades for buildings will accelerate the rollout of green technologies, while improving the lives of people living in energy poverty and reducing energy consumption.

Energy innovation is driving the decarbonisation of Europe's buildings, for the betterment of our pockets, our health, and the planet.

This innovation is not limited to technology, however. We are also delivering innovative policy approaches to accelerate this process and channel the necessary support to the people who need it most.

One example of such an approach is the Minimum Energy Performance Standards or 'MEPS' in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). MEPS require buildings to meet predefined energy ratings by a specific date or at a certain moment in the lifecycle of the building, like during a sale or a change in tenure. The standards are then progressively tightened over time, in line with the EU’s objective of a carbon neutral building stock by 2050.

By setting these standards, I believe we can improve the energy efficiency of Europe’s building stock significantly, while lifting millions out of energy poverty and lowering bills for all. We can also slash Europe’s energy consumption, and deliver better health outcomes for everyone living in Europe.

Seven out of every 10 buildings in Europe are energy inefficient. That means that energy is leaking out of badly insulated windows, doors, walls, and roofs across the EU. People and organisations are spending millions every month on energy that goes to waste.

MEPS can turn this situation on its head, by establishing a baseline requirement of energy performance that buildings must reach, ensuring that new and existing buildings meet minimum efficiency standards.

Why tackle buildings? They represent approximately 40% of Europe’s energy consumption and 36% of carbon emissions. More energy efficient buildings consume less energy, and therefore contribute less emissions. MEPS will provide the necessary clear benchmarks to drive improvements in the energy performance of our buildings.

Not all buildings are equal under MEPS: different standards and timelines are set for different building types, including residential, nonresidential (commercial), and public buildings. Residential buildings are given more time to reach these standards than for public buildings under the European Parliament proposal, for example.

Energy inefficient buildings are also costly, and most acutely for the millions of people in Europe who live in energy poverty. It is estimated that the EPBD will save around 47 billion cubic litres of gas per year, putting more money in the pockets of those vulnerable households struggling to pay their bills. MEPS prioritise these households by starting renovations with the buildings that waste the most energy ('worst-performing buildings') first. It is often the poorest people who live in these buildings, who are most impacted by high energy bills. Social safeguards will protect those who cannot afford renovations or rent increases, while renters will specifically benefit from the EPBD because they often pay the energy bills but have no influence over the energy performance of their homes.

To further protect people living in energy poverty, we should be careful not to apply a district level approach to MEPS. This would be disastrous for vulnerable households. Under this approach, a local authority operating in a district with a mix of well and poorly-performing buildings could take the average performance of a district as the standard and prevent targeted action against the worstperforming buildings. We must strictly avoid condemning vulnerable households to energy poverty by forcing them to live in highly inefficient buildings with sky high heating bills. Our priority must be to realise the potential of MEPS to live millions out of energy poverty.

MEPS will bring lower bills to all, because more efficient buildings require less energy to operate, leading to lower bills and long-term cost savings for building owners and occupants. They will also support households and building owners to get there, by encouraging them to adopt energy-efficient technologies and practices like heat-pumps and building automation and control systems (BACS). They should also benefit from supports to upgrade their buildings with these systems, and we can expect the price of these technologies to come down over time.

Implementing MEPS doesn't necessarily mean that a building has to be renovated. A MEPS can be achieved for certain buildings if there is an increase of the share of renewables in the grid or via locally sourced renewables or if the building is connected to an efficient district heating network. Something as simple as improving the building's insolation or installing solar rooftop PVs could increase the energy performance of the building and bring it to the relevant standard.

As MEPS often incorporate better insulation, efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, they can ensure better health outcomes for people living in Europe. These improvements enhance indoor comfort and well-being by maintaining a more consistent temperature and improving air quality. Poor air quality was the cause of 238,000 deaths in 2020 and improved air quality through cleaner buildings would be a significant step in curbing this figure.

MEPS will also contribute to mitigating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Better performing buildings will result in lower carbon emissions and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels from authoritarian regimes like Russia and Saudi Arabia. By promoting sustainable building practices, MEPS support the EU's environmental goals and helps the transition to a renewable-based economy.

It is very important not to mix up cost and investment. At the end of the day, this directive is about protecting households from increased fuel prices and saving money for families in the long term. If we don’t tackle buildings now, we only create a larger and more expensive problem for future generations. To be serious about our climate goals and make the European Green Deal a reality, we need a strong EPBD that realises the full potential of MEPS for people and the planet.