Energy efficiency standards in buildings – And why sustainable development is important right now

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century, economic growth processes have repeatedly been realized at the expense of the environment. The overall continuous growth of the earth’s population also induces the growth of the economy, which in turn drives the demand for resources. This increase in demand is opposed by planet Earth with its limited available resources. If demand continues to grow unchecked, these will not be sufficient to feed a growing population in the long term. According to a study by Madhumitha Jaganmohan, the world’s population is estimated to reach eleven billion by 2100. Given the increasing depletion of the world’s resources, it is crucial to use them wisely. Find out what this has to do with energy efficiency standards in buildings in this article!

energy efficiency

The tool of sustainability helps us adapt strategies in a modern world to boost the economy without depleting natural resources. In September 2015, under the auspices of the United Nations, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 sustainable goals – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – were adopted by all member states. The goals address the global challenges humanity is facing in all areas of life and aim to achieve a sustainable future for all. Various actors are actively contributing to the achievement of the SDGs; one example is impact investing.

The United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCC) hosts the Conference of the Parties (COP) each year. The goal of the annual conference, in addition to promoting sustainable resource-conserving economic activity, is to use a holistic approach to combat climate change, stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and reach an agreement on the time needed to achieve the goals.

What measures are being used to combat climate change?

Global energy-related CO2 emissions totaled approximately 36.44 billion metric tons in 2019, a significant increase over the pre-industrial era. However, forecasts for 2020 show a significant decrease in emissions due to the impact of COVID-19. The Asia-Pacific region was the largest producer of CO2 emissions in 2019. To reduce carbon dioxide production, several countries have begun issuing tradable green certificates. Carbon pricing is considered one of the most effective ways to encourage companies to reduce emissions and promote more sustainable production. In addition, increasing energy production from renewable energy sources is seen as another way to reduce carbon emissions.

Reducing energy consumption and curbing energy waste are of increasing importance to the EU. In 2007, EU policymakers set a target to reduce the Union’s annual energy consumption by 20% by 2020. In 2018, the Clean Energy for All Europeans package set a new target to reduce energy consumption by at least 32.5% by 2030. Energy efficiency measures are increasingly recognized as a means not only to achieve sustainable energy supply, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve security of supply and reduce the cost of energy imports, but also to improve EU competitiveness. From a strategic point of view, energy efficiency is therefore of particular importance for the Energy Union and the EU promotes the principle of “energy efficiency first”. Currently, the future strategic framework for the period after 2030 is being discussed.

Energy efficiency standards in public buildings 

Currently, the Commission is asking Member States to set national indicative targets for reducing energy consumption, introducing strengthened automatic mechanisms to close the gaps, and doubling the obligation for Member States to achieve new annual energy savings of 1.5% of final energy consumption between 2024 and 2030. It also introduces exemplary requirements for public buildings, such as the target to reduce energy consumption in the public sector by 1.7% annually and the target to renovate at least 3% of the total area of public administration buildings. It also proposes to reduce energy poverty by giving priority to vulnerable customers, and to introduce audit obligations and technical competence requirements, especially for large energy consumers. Energy poverty in particular could be a major problem in the future if not countered: The expected price explosion for electricity and gas may become an existential problem for millions of EU citizens.

The most important standards for energy efficiency

The German government uses two instruments to promote energy-efficient construction: Grants via the KfW Bank or the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) and the requirements of the Building Energy Act (GEG). These two instruments result in the most important standards for energy efficiency:

KfW Efficiency House or Energy Efficiency House

The term “Efficient House” is a quality mark developed by the Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH (dena) together with the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs (BMVBS) and the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW). KfW uses this quality mark as part of its “Energy-efficient construction” and “Energy-efficient refurbishment” funding programs. A KfW Efficiency House is distinguished between different categories (e.g. KfW 100, KfW 85, KfW 70, etc.). These indicate the maximum percentage value of the primary energy demand of the reference building calculated in the GEG. A KfW 100 house thus corresponds to a GEG new building. A KfW-85 house may have a maximum of 85% of the primary energy requirement of the reference building. With the introduction of federal funding for efficiency houses, the standards will remain largely unchanged. However, the designation will then only be Effizienzhaus.

Zero energy house

This building standard refers to the annual energy balance of the building. In the annual balance, a zero-energy building must compensate for external energy purchases by generating its own energy (e.g., through photovoltaics or combined heat and power). The less heating and household electricity the household requires, the less electricity has to be generated by technical systems.

Energy Plus House

Over the course of a year, an energy-plus house generates more energy than it consumes. In addition to the heat demand for heating and hot water, household electricity is also taken into account. To meet these high requirements, highly efficient household appliances are needed in addition to a high-quality building envelope and efficient systems engineering. Theoretically, however, no electricity storage is required: the electricity grid is considered a seasonal “store” in both the Energy Plus House and the Zero Energy House. However, in order to increase independence and ensure climate-friendly decreasing energy costs, the acquisition of such a storage unit is very often worthwhile today. The Efficiency House Plus is similar to the Energy Plus House, with the difference that in the former a fixed household current is specified.

Passive house

Passive houses cover most of their heating needs from passive energy sources such as solar radiation and internal heat sources (waste heat from household appliances and people). They are heavily insulated and very tightly built, have large, south-facing window areas and require a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery. According to the definition, the low heating requirement of max. 15 kWh per square meter and year can be covered by the hygienic air exchange (air heating) that is necessary anyway. Nevertheless, conventional heat generators and heat transfer systems such as radiators or underfloor heating can also be used as long as the prescribed renewable primary energy demand of 60 kWh/m² is not exceeded. Household electricity is also taken into account in the evaluation of the primary energy demand.

Energy self-sufficient house

In contrast to zero-energy and energy-plus houses, energy-autonomous houses achieve a high degree of independence not only in balance sheet terms: they actually cover a large part of their energy requirements themselves. This is made possible by seasonal heat and power storage systems that make surplus energy from the summer months available into the winter. Energy-saving envelope surfaces, large storage masses in the building and energy-efficient household appliances are also important.

Low energy house

The low-energy house is a catchy term that is neither protected by law nor defined by standards and is used by solid and prefabricated house manufacturers primarily for advertising purposes.

The energy-saving 3-liter house

3-liter houses are buildings that require only about 3 liters of heating oil per square meter per year. This corresponds to a final energy demand of around 30 kWh/m² and year.

GEG building/reference building

According to the current version of the Building Energy Act (GEG), a building-specific primary energy requirement and an average U-value must not be exceeded in new buildings and energy-related renovations. The reference building is one way of calculating these limit values.

Funding landscape of energy efficient buildings

The promotion of energy-efficient buildings is a central point in the federal government’s energy concept. As part of the decisions of the 2019 Climate Cabinet and the Federal Climate Protection Act (KSG), the conditions were made more attractive and the subsidies were increased. This has triggered strong momentum, which has been reflected in the number of applications for the funding programs in recent years. Further transformations are on the horizon with the gradual introduction of the federal subsidy for efficient buildings (BEG). This will combine and expand existing subsidy programs such as the CO2 Building Renovation Program and the Market Incentive Program, so that in future only one application per building project will be necessary. The aim of the BEG is to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector to 70 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents in 2030, whereby the subsidy is only one component of the greenhouse gas reduction and further tightening by EU requirements is also conceivable.

It therefore remains exciting to what extent energy standards will continue to develop in the future. We at magility will keep an eye on further developments for you.

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