Nearly zero-energy buildings: Recommendations issued by EU


The Commission issued a set of recommendations regarding the guidelines for the promotion of nearly zero-energy buildings and best practices. What do they say?

On 2 August, the Official Journal of the European Union published the recommendations issued by the Commission 2016/1318 on 29 July 2016 regarding the guidelines for the promotion of nearly zero-energy buildings and best practices to ensure that, by 2020, all new buildings are nearly zero-energy buildings.

For more related news, read our section on energy.

What is the concept of nearly zero-energy buildings?

In the European Union, 40% of energy consumption altogether is due to buildings, which could greatly contribute to reaching EU climate and energy targets, decreasing the EU dependency on imported gas and oil and, thus, curbing the need for a higher production of electricity.

In 2010, through the recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the EU tried to take advantage of this potential by introducing the concept of nearly zero-energy buildings (nZEB).

Concretely, a building has zero net energy consumption when the total amount of energy it uses on an annual basis roughly equals the amount of renewable energy created on the site or – in other definitions – by renewable energy sources elsewhere. Therefore, they contribute less overall greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than similar non-ZNE buildings.

For this reason, under the EPDB [Directive 2010/31/EU], all new buildings will have to be nearly zero-energy by the end of 2020. As for public buildings, they must reach this target by 2018.

However, the Directive only describes a general framework and then Member States have considerable room to rule on the matter. Even the precise definition of nZEB was established by Member States, which could also decide what exactly is a ‘nearly zero’ and ‘very high’ energy performance.

The same goes for what nearly zero-energy consumption should cover (heating, cooling, ventilation and hot water, perhaps also lighting and possibly even all electricity used in a building). This ambiguity was intentional and aimed to help accommodate all differences in terms of building styles, resources and climate across Europe.

Therefore, nZEB is a very flexible policy requirement with no single, harmonised nZEB definition throughout the EU. Some of the expressions are deliberately unclear and it is left to the Member States in their national plans to give some rigour to the definition within the context of their own national efforts.

As of April 2015, for example, there were definitions of nZEB in 15 Member States, which differed both in terms of what they take into account and the values they prescribe.

What are the recommendations issued by the Commission?

In brief, this is what the Commission said:

  • Principles for nZEB are one of the pillars of the current Directive and are set to become the norm for new buildings as of 2020. Member States are advised to step up their efforts to fully implement and enforce the provisions of the EPBD to ensure that all new buildings become nZEB by the target dates in the Directive.
  • Member States are advised to set national definitions of nZEB at a sufficiently high level of ambition –not below the projected cost-optimal level of minimum requirements- and to use renewable energy sources in an integrated design concept to cover the low energy requirements of nearly-zero energy buildings. Recommended benchmarks are provided in Section 4.1. Proper indoor environment should be ensured to avoid deterioration of indoor air quality, comfort and health conditions in the European building stock.
  • In ensuring that new buildings will be nZEB as of the end of 2020, Member States should assess as soon as possible whether adaptation of existing practices is needed. It is equally recommended that Member States define the mechanism that will be used to monitor the fulfilment of the nZEB targets and to consider the possibility to set up differentiated sanctions for new buildings after the nZEB deadlines have passed.
  • Policies and measures for the promotion of nZEB should be more specific in clarifying to what extent they contribute to achieving nZEB targets. A stronger connection between policies, measures and nZEBs is recommended. To facilitate the provision of this information, the Commission has made available to Member States a non-obligatory template, whose use is recommended to facilitate the comparability and analysis of the plans.
  • The Commission recommends that Member States accelerate progress in the development of support policies addressing specifically the refurbishment of existing building stocks towards nZEB levels. Member States should design consistent mixtures of policy instruments (policy packages) to provide the required long-term stability to investors in efficient buildings, including deep and nZEB renovations. Reliable data collection to monitor policy impacts is recommended to address specific needs and to monitor the implementation of building stock refurbishment.

Related Articles

Back to Top