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Towards 2021: Nearly Zero Energy Buildings

Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)

The EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD - 2002/91/EC) is the main European legislative instrument for improving the energy efficiency of Europe's building stock. Under the Directive, the following obligations were introduced in all Member States:

  • A methodology to calculate and rate the integrated energy performance of buildings
  • A system of energy certification for new and existing buildings, with display requirements for public buildings
  • Regular inspections of heating and air-conditioning systems
  • Minimum energy performance standards for new buildings and for existing buildings that undergo major renovation with a useful floor area over 1000m2

A full overview and the text of the Directive can be found here.



In 2010, the EPBD Recast (Directive 2010/31/EU) entered into force. The updated text clarified, strengthened and extended the scope of the current directive. Key changes included:

  • Development of a comparative methodology framework for calculating cost-optimal levels of minimum energy performance requirements for buildings and building elements.
  • Extension to all buildings (removal of 1000m2 floor area threshold) of requirement to set minimum energy performance levels when a major renovation takes place, including for building envelope elements that are retrofitted or replaced
  • All new buildings to be nearly zero energy level by December 2020 (December 2018 for public authority buildings)
  • Requirement for Member States to list financial incentives in place to enable the transition towards nearly zero energy levels in buildings
  • Mandatory energy certification for all properties constructed, sold or rented out, and for all public buildings over 500m2 or those frequently visited by the public
  • Enhanced heating and cooling system inspections and reporting requirements
  • Requirement for Member States to establish penalties for non-compliance

The Directive must be transposed into national law by July 2012. 

Download the Directive here: Directive 2010/31/EU



In 2009 the EU has set ambitious climate protection targets by 2020: Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 20% below 1990 levels, 20% of energy consumption to come from renewable resources and 20% reduction in primary energy use to be achieved by improving energy efficiency. But 2020 is just round the corner. Though experts estimate that EU renewable energy sources (RES) targets will likely be met, it is the energy efficiency targets that are endangered. In the prognosis we are still only half the way.

The energy saving potential from building renovation varies from country to country and is estimated at 55 to 80%. But as reports demonstrate current retrofit practice is far from perfect with the final outcome far from technically achievable standards. Lack of proper cost and benefit analysis and know how blocks future investments for tens of years before the next renovation will be considered. This is often referred to as the lock in effect.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) created the national institutional and regulatory framework for taking action on energy retrofit in most Member States. For new buildings, as of January, 1st 2019 every new public building will have to comply with the nearly zero energy building requirements. All other new buildings will have to comply with the new requirements two years later. The effective implementation of the EPBD Directive is however a continuing challenge for many countries. And yet there are new challenges on the way.

In September 2012 the EU Parliament has voted for the new Energy Efficiency Directive which is now awaiting for signing by the Council and official publication. The Directive brings forward new binding measures to step up the efforts to use energy more efficiently. Among others it emphasizes the exemplary role of the public sector by imposing annual renovation target of 3% for public buildings above 250 m² and an obligation to purchase buildings with high energy efficiency performance. 


Nearly Zero Energy Buildings

The EPBD recast Article 9 requires that “Member States shall ensure that by 31 December 2020 all new buildings are nearly zero-energy buildings; and after 31 December 2018, new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities are nearly zero-energy buildings”. Member States shall furthermore “draw up national plans for increasing the number of nearly zero-energy buildings” and “following the leading example of the public sector, develop policies and take measures such as the setting of targets in order to stimulate the transformation of buildings that are refurbished into nearly zero-energy buildings”.

A nearly zero-energy building is defined in Article 2of the EPBD recast as “a building that has a very high energy performance. The nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable sources, including energy from renewable sources produced on-site or nearby”.

How much energy the building can consume, which renewable energy sources are allowed and how close to the building the energy has to be generated is still discussed in the Member States and in the EU institutions. There will be national definitions of Nearly Zero Buildings in each country – in many cases probably taking a reference point in the definition of passive houses when it comes to the level of final use of energy.

With the Door Open Days campaigns we aim at showing the best buildings currently available sticking as close as possible to the (future) national NZEB definition.

Sources: EuroAceEPBD CA