The EPBD aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption of buildings across the EU. The overarching goal of the Directive is uncontroversial and is expected to lead to improved quality of life for citizens and lower energy bills, while improving Europe's energy independence and the business case for building retrofits. As usual, it all comes down to the tools with which these goals are to be achieved. These include, in particular:
- National building renovation plans, which at the national level are expected to set in motion a wave of renovations and lead to the retrofitting of the oldest buildings (16% by 2030 and 26% by 2033) and a reduction in total energy consumption in the building sector (16% by 2030 and 20-22% by 2035).
- Spreading bicycle infrastructure and charging electric vehicles in buildings.
- Setting standards for zero-emission buildings (ZEBs), which all facilities newly built after 2030 must be, with the ultimate goal of making up the entire building stock in the European Union.
- Obligation to install solar energy equipment in buildings, where technically and economically feasible. For new residential buildings, the obligation would take effect as of December 31, 2029.
We wrote about the EPBD earlier in the spring.
What does the new EPBD say about gas boilers?
The EPBD, by specifying requirements for ZEB buildings, also defines what heat sources will be allowed to be installed in newly constructed and retrofitted buildings. Since there is a lot of vague information on this issue in the public debate, it is worth looking at the wording of the negotiated regulations.
- Recital 14: Member states should aim to phase out stand-alone fossil-fuel boilers, and as a first step, financial incentives for replacing heat sources with stand-alone fossil-fuel boilers should be stopped from 2025. Financial incentives will continue to be allowed for hybrid systems with a significant share of renewable energy sources (RES), such as a boiler-solar collector or heat pump combination.
- Paragraph 20 of the preamble: for the purpose of covering the energy needs of zero-carbon buildings, energy from on-site combustion of renewable fuels is treated as locally generated renewable energy .
- Article 2(2): "zero-emission building" means a building with very high energy performance, requiring zero or very low energy and generating locally zero carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and very low greenhouse gas emissions during operation, according to Article 9b.
- Article 7(1): all newly constructed buildings must have zero-emission status (ZEB) as of Jan. 1, 2030.
- Article 9b(6): member states shall ensure that the annual energy demand of ZEB buildings will be met by:
▶ RES energy produced locally or nearby,
▶ RES energy produced by the energy community,
▶ energy from an efficient district heating system in accordance with the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED),
▶ energy from "non-carbon" sources.
- Article 11 (5) and (6): member states should strive to replace self-contained fossil-fuel boilers in existing buildings in accordance with national plans they have adopted for phasing out fossil-fuel boilers. The European Commission will issue guidelines on what should be understood as a fossil-fueled boiler.
- Article 15: From 2025 onward, member states should not offer any financial incentives for the installation of self-contained boilers powered by fossil fuels.
- Annex II (template for national building renovation plans) provides an overview of the country's legislative efforts, including the decarbonization of heating with the intention of phasing out fossil-fuel boilers by 2040.
The process of negotiating the EPBD at the level of the Council of the European Union, i.e. between member states, was long and difficult. The European Parliament adopted its position in March 2023, and the Council adopted a general approach to the draft directive - significantly different from the final compromise - as early as October 2022. Because of the consequences for consumers, the legislative process generated a lot of controversy from countries whose climatic conditions, energy mix and construction resources differ significantly.
Regarding the possibility of using gas boilers after 2030, the agreed compromise around the EPBD can be read as follows:
- Zero-carbon buildings (new and retrofitted after 2030) will not be allowed to use stand-alone - i.e., unassociated with other heat sources - boilers, powered solely by fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas and fossil LPG. Hybrid systems, consisting of a boiler and other RES sources, will be allowed to be installed.
- Member states must withdraw financial support from 2025 for replacing heat sources with new sources using only fossil fuels. This means, for example, changes to the Clean Air Program, which from now on could finance gas boilers only if they are combined with renewable energy sources.
- Zero-emission buildings will be allowed to install boilers powered by renewable fuels, such as biomethane or biopropane, because they will be treated as locally installed renewable energy sources.
- Due to the very vague wording in the text of the Directive(fossil fuel boiler, carbon-free sources), which does not find a definition in European law, a deliberate move on the part of the Council to conclude negotiations in 2023, the Commission will issue guidelines on how they should be understood, and member states can interpret them flexibly at the stage of implementation into national law. This means that in the Polish law on the energy performance of buildings, which will need to be adapted to the new directive, it will be possible to define such phrases as, for example, "non-carbon sources" under national law.
In practice, the negotiations ended up shifting responsibility for interpreting the most controversial provisions to legislators in member states, including Poland.
Photo: Ciarán Cuffe, rapporteur of the European Parliament for the EPBD