E.U. to mandate 'nearly zero' power use by buildings

European legislators and countries struck a deal last night to introduce tough new energy-efficiency regulations for all electricity-using appliances and buildings within the next decade.

Most significantly, the European Union directive will require that nearly all buildings, including large houses, constructed after 2020 include stark efficiency improvements or generate most of their energy from renewable sources, coming close to "nearly zero" energy use.

European countries will also be required to establish a certification system to measure buildings' energy efficiency. These certificates will be required for any new construction or buildings that are sold or rented to new tenants. Existing buildings will also have to, during any major renovation, improve their efficiency if at all feasible.

Buildings are responsible for about 36 percent of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions, and stricter efficiency requirements have been sought for the past several years as absolutely necessary for the bloc to meets its goal of cutting emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Other regions should take note, said Andris Piebalgs, the E.U. energy commissioner, in a statement.

"By this agreement, the E.U. is sending a strong message to the forthcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen," Piebalgs said. "Improving the energy performance of buildings is a cost effective way of fighting against climate change and improving energy security, while also boosting the building sector and the E.U. economy as a whole."


A second directive agreed on yesterday will expand the scope of efficiency labeling to all consumer products that use energy, eventually covering everything from hot water taps to vending machines.

Most prominently, all electricity-using appliances for the home will have to be accompanied by an efficiency rating -- from a green "A" to a red "G" -- in any advertisement that touts price or energy savings. The rule is meant to raise consumer awareness of the gradient in energy savings available when purchasing televisions, freezers and washing machines, for example.

In the future, these labels will also be attached to industrial products, such as cold storage rooms, display cabinets or vending machines. The labels will also apply to products that have indirect energy costs, including construction products like window glazing and frames, or exterior doors.

Striking a deal on the efficiency package has been one of the most important goals of the Swedish presidency of the European Union, which ends next month. By strengthening efficiency requirements, Europe could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to 70 percent of its Kyoto targets and save each household about €300 a year in energy bill expenses.

Few hurdles now remain for the directives, which are expected to be formally approved by the European Parliament early next year. Once adopted, E.U. countries will have two years to write the directives into their domestic laws.

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