The construction sector is one of the important sectors on which the implementation of climate policy in Belgium. The objective is to achieve a nearly zero-energy building stock by 2050. Renovation plays an essential role in achieving this objective as the majority of the stock consists of existing buildings. In this article you will find an overview of the corresponding policy framework and the current social debate.

Role of renovation in the climate debate

Renovation is set out to make an important contribution to the climate objective of achieving a transformation to a nearly-zero energy (NZEB) building stock by 2050 in a cost-efficient manner. This transformation was formulated by the European Union in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union are reduced by 80-95% compared to 1990 by 2050. In order to achieve this objective, a policy framework has been developed at European level to target the sectors that conduct activities that are responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases. These sectors are split up in two groups: the energy-intensive industry (44%), for which measures are developed and managed directly at European level (ETS), and the other sectors (55%), for which European directives have been developed and transposed into policy measures by the Member States (non-ETS). The construction sector has been identified as one of the non-ETS sectors for which measures are developed and implemented at a regional level in Belgium (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Role of renovation in climate polic

The European directives consist of a number of policy measures to be developed and a number of European objectives to be achieved by member states. For buildings, the most important directive is the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). This Directive requires that Member States impose a number of minimum energy performance requirements on new buildings and major energy renovations, provide an energy performance certification scheme for buildings and establish a long-term renovation strategy for the transformation of existing buildings into a nearly zero-energy building stock by 2050. In terms of objectives, improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2020 and 32.5% by 2030 are the most important for the construction sector. These energy efficiency targets are broken down into targets per European Member State. Each member State has to develop a plan to achieve these targets and calculate whether the measures proposed are expected to be sufficient to achieve the target. The European policy framework indicates which policy measures can be included the calculation, which includes renovation measures.

For more information on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, click here.

The renovation policy framework

The policy framework consists of several Directives and Regulations that detail the policy measures to be developed and the European objectives to be achieved. For example, the EPBD states that each Member State needs to develop a long-term renovation strategy and have an energy performance certification scheme for existing buildings. Under the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union, each member state is also obliged to draw up a National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). This report indicates the measures that Member States propose to realise their national objective for reducing greenhouse gases. Renovation is an important part of this; the long-term renovation strategy needs to be submitted as an annex to the NECP. Renovation is also increasingly the subject of European funding projects, which provide funding for policy-supporting research.

Figure 2: Translation of renovation policy framework to the Belgian level


Long-term renovation strategy

The long-term renovation strategy is the plan by which Member States aim to achieve the transition to a nearly zero-energy building stock by 2050. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) requires each Member State to draw up such a plan. The Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) specifies more or less to what extent measures may be counted towards the national energy efficiency target. The strategy must meet a number of minimum requirements and requires a link between financial measures and the quality of renovation works. In addition, the mobilisation of financial institutions must be given a central role. In Belgium, drawing up a long-term renovation strategy is a regional responsibility. Measures that the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels Region have proposed include the development of a building pass or passport, a renovation advice or step-by-step plan, an extension of the obligation of the energy performance certificate and the introduction of a renovation obligation. Member States are obliged to organise a public consultation on the long-term renovation strategy. The long-term renovation strategies should be submitted as part of the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) since the introduction of the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union.

For more information on long-term renovation strategies in Belgium, click here (NL) or here (FR).

Energy performance certificate

The energy performance certificate is an instrument that provides insight into the energy performance of a building through a categorisation into labels. Having such a certification system is an obligation to Member States under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The classification of the labels is determined by the Member States or, in the case of Belgium, by the Regional government. Because of the regional responsibility, the classification of the categories, the calculation methods and the designations of the methodology vary in Belgium per region; in the Flemish Region, the scheme is known as 'het energieprestatiecertificaat' (EPC), in the Walloon Region as la certification PEB and in the Brussels-Capital Region as 'het EPB-certificaat' or 'le certificat PEB'. The EPBD states that an energy performance certificate must be compulsory in the event of a notarial transfer (i.e. sale or lease) of a residential building. However, this obligation does not appear to be sufficient to achieve the 2050 target for nearly zero-energy building stock. Therefore, in the context of the development of the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP), the possibility of extending the scheme is currently being considered. An example is an extension of the obligation of the energy performance certificate to all buildings regardless of notarial transfer. This would be expected provide a better understanding of the actual energy performance of the building stock and could introduce more flexibility into the renovation obligation as a major benefit.

For more information about the energy performance certificate in Belgium, click here (NL) or here (FR).

National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP)

In order to create a more secure investment climate for energy-efficient investments, the European Union has introduced the 'Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union'. This Regulation requires Member States to draw up a National Climate and Energy Plan (NECP) for a period of 10 years. This plan shall include the policies and measures with which a Member State aims to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction target. The draft of the first draft version of the NECP was submitted to the European Commission at the end of last year. Pending their feedback, Member States will have to provide the final version of their NECP by 31 December 2019. A NECP shall include a description of the objectives and targets at Member State level. Furthermore an NECP consists of five dimensions: renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy security, the internal energy market and research, innovation and competitiveness. The Regulation contains obligations concerning the organisation of public consultations on the plan and the realisation of regional cooperation. It also includes several requirements concerning reports and consequences in case the objectives are not achieved.

Within the framework of Article 10 of the Regulation, Belgium launched a public consultation on the energy and climate plan in June. Participation is possible via this link (NL) or this link (FR) until July 15.

Grant projects

Funding is made available by the European Commission for the implementation of study projects to support policy development. These projects also pay attention to renovation. There are currently several projects in Belgium that have been supported by European or regional funds:

  •  The Life project BE REEL! aims to achieve an increased degree of renovation in the Flemish and Walloon Regions by means of instrument development (e.g. building pass) and demonstration projects at the local level. The project runs from 2018 to 2024.
  •  The Horizon 2020 project FALCO aims to develop solutions to finance local climate policies that include renovations. The project runs from 2017 to 2021.
  • Interreg project ACE retrofitting is aimed at accelerating the renovation of apartment complexes. This project started in 2016 and runs until 2020.
  • The VIS project Smart Energy City sets out to realise an optimal use of the expertise of companies in the implementation of local policy with collective renovation as one of the focus points. Agoria is a partner in this project. The project runs from 2018 to 2022.
  • An additional European funding fund was also recently launched: European Local ENergy Assistance (ELENA). This fund is managed by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

 For more information about the VIS Smart Energy City project, click here (NL) or here (FR).

Determination of the 2050 target

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) sets a transition to a nearly zero-energy (NZEB) building stock as the objective for long-term renovation strategies. NZEB is the energy performance level that buildings need to achieve in 2050. Member States determine what a nearly zero-energy (NZEB) level is. In Belgium these definitions are a Regional responsibility and therefore three types of nearly zero-energy levels have been defined:

  • Flemish Region: Nearly zero-energy (BEN) defined as an E-level of 60 or an EPC of 100 kWh/m2/year.
  • Walloon Region: Quasi-zero energy (Q-Zen) is defined as an Ew level of ≤ 45 and a level Espec of ≤ 85 kWh/m2/ year
  • Brussels-Capital Region: Nearly-zero energy (NZEB) is defined as 100 kWh/m2/year on average. This only applies to residential buildings. Tertiary buildings aim for energy neutrality.

 The obligation to define nearly-zero energy level comes from the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) of 2010 (art. 9, paragraph 3a). It states that all public buildings must be nearly zero-energy by 2018 and all new buildings by 2020. In the revision of the EPBD in 2018, the existing buildings were added with a deadline in 2050.

 For more information on the different NZEB levels in Europe, click here.

Current social debate

Given the ongoing development of the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP), there is a lot of discussion on how to tackle the achievement of the renovation target. A number of themes recur on a regular basis, such as the search for ways to increase the renovation rate and to keep the renovations affordable. Below you will find an overview of the most important points of discussion for this moment:

 Increase in the renovation rate

The renovation rate is currently too low to achieve the target of a nearly zero-energy building stock by 2050. The current renovation rate in Belgium is currently less than 1%, while a renovation rate of more than 3% is needed to meet the 2050 deadline. One of the measures currently under discussion to increase the renovation rate is the introduction of a renovation obligation. The central question is how this can best be shaped without creating a lock-in in the real estate market. In addition, an elaboration of the energy performance certificate obligation is under discussion; this would provide the necessary data on the current state of the building stock and offer more flexibility in the design of the renovation obligation. Finally, the lack of knowledge about renovation also appears to be an important barrier for carrying out energy renovations. For this reason, ways of making early referrals to renovation professionals and gaining insight into the renovation steps to be taken as simple as possible are also considered.

Scaling up of ad hoc initiatives

The policy framework within which the renovation objective is to be achieved is comprehensive; as illustrated above, it is the subject of several policies, plans and research projects. In addition, the renovation policy is implemented at several policy levels. As a result, renovation policy is sometimes perceived as fragmented and complex. There are many initiatives that are successful in themselves, but at the same time seem difficult to scale up. This scaling up is necessary to achieve the 2050 target. There is therefore a growing need, for example, for a framework in which ad hoc initiatives can be linked to each other. The question is how best to design such a framework and which activities can best be tackled centrally without creating a lock-in.

Increasing funding opportunities

One of the major points of discussion in the renovation debate is how the 2050 renovation target can be achieved in an affordable way. This is also reflected in the way in which the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) refers to the importance of the involvement of financial institutions in the long-term renovation strategy. Analyses of the impact of the energy performance certificate show that the energetic state of a building is beginning to have an impact on its value. However, this impact is not yet sufficient to achieve the 2050 renovation objective. At the moment, there are still many questions concerning the determination of the investment budget that is required to achieve the overall renovation objective and the cost profile per renovation. There is also a lot of discussion about the most appropriate financial and fiscal instruments to make additional financial resources available.

Determining the required capacity of the construction sector

A continuous low renovation rate means that the required renovation rate to meet the 2050 renovation target is constantly increasing. For Belgium, this currently means almost 20 renovations per hour. The question is whether the capacity of the construction sector is sufficient to provide the necessary labour. In this context, it is necessary to consider the number of man-days required on the one hand and whether there is sufficient capacity for activities that require specialised knowledge on the other hand. This includes installers of heating appliances, electricians, glaziers, etc. These are not functions that can be taken up just like that; a number of additional trainings and certifications to be allowed to carry out the work. The great need at the moment lies in mapping out these required capacities. As soon as there is more insight here, it can be examined whether it is only a problem of numbers or whether other measures, such as the organisation of a spread of the (specialised) activities or the digitisation of the construction process, can offer a (partial) solution.

Determination of a demolition and reconstruction framework

The state of a number of buildings is so bad that renovation is no longer a sensible option. Demolition and rebuilding can offer a solution in such a case. At the moment, however, there are still many questions about determining whether a building is worth demolishing or not. An initial proposal for the formulation of a demolition framework was developed within the Renofase project (NL). More insight is needed, however, in order to arrive at a final framework and (possibly) proposal for legislation.

Follow-up by Agoria

Agoria is involved as a stakeholder in the development of the climate and energy plans (NECPs) of the regions and the federal government. In addition, through projects such as Smart Energy Cities, Agoria also tries to make a supportive contribution to the implementation of local climate plans. In the field of renovations, the focus is currently on mapping out the scope of the assignment, the design of the necessary policy measures and the search for possibilities to connect current initiatives. More information about the current state of affairs of the renovation projects, which are being followed up by Agoria, can be found in the action list 'energy for construction'. This action list can be found at the bottom of this page (NL) or this page (FR).