Integrating solar energy into the Europe's build environment

By Sean Kelly, MEP, (pictured)
Autumn 2022

Ismail Ertug, MEPRenovation of the EU's building stock is a key Green Deal priority, but since this designation, the landscape in Europe has changed. We have faced, and overcome, the worst pandemic in 100 years, the economic consequences of which will have lasting implications, but also a war on our doorstep that has fundamentally changed the trajectory of the energy transition and caused a crisis in security of our energy supply.

This has caused inflation to skyrocket and soaring energy prices for consumers, significantly affecting millions of EU citizens, business and the economy more broadly. We have to face the reality that things may get worse before they get better, but in the meantime we must do everything we can to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

However, in reacting to the crisis we must trade one dependency for another. The war poses an immediate an acute danger that will require a comprehensive and cooperative approach from the international community.

Climate change on the other hand has not gone away; it poses an existential problem for the human race and the effects are plain to see. One only has to look at Pakistan, where one-third of the country is currently completely submerged due to historic flooding. These compounding factors will make the next few years difficult, to put it mildly, but it must spore governments to take concrete action.

To reduce dependency on fossil fuels, particularly gas, it is clear that further action is needed to reduce buildings' energy consumption. A massive scale-up in renewable energy in power generation, industry, buildings and transport will accelerate our phasing out of Russian fossil fuels. It will also, over time, lower electricity prices and reduce fossil fuel imports.

Buildings are responsible for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of the energy consumption in the EU. It is clear they need to be sufficiently addressed if we are to reach our climate targets. There is no question of that.

As the main EU-level legal instrument for decarbonising Member States' building stock, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will soon take centre stage.

The slowing economy and increases in cost of living will have significant implications for consumer purchasing power and personal savings. Therefore, we must be aware that imposing obligations without providing suffi cient means to achieve standards has the potential to increase inequality. Those who can afford renovations will be insulated by rising energy costs, while those who cannot will face rising costs. This point cannot be emphasised enough.

The EPBD will be a very important piece of legislation. Finding a balance between the need to revamp the built environment and not impose undue financial burden on households and business will be extremely difficult, but necessary.

Currently, 72% of renovations are self-funded, yet only 18% consumers are taking loans to renovate their homes, as they are too expensive. This is compounded by the complexity of navigating the subsidy schemes and seeking technical expertise. Those barriers are even bigger for deep renovation projects. The EPBD should seek to establish firmer links between the financial sector and the renovation sector.

The energy crisis has highlighted the need to utilise available resources, from a buildings perspective, solar becomes an ever more attractive investment. The use of energy saving and generation technologies will be pivotal for buildings. These are cost effective solutions with a high yield on return of investment, allowing use to utilise much cleaner primary energy consumption.

The 'Solar Rooftop Initiative', a core element of the REPowerEU plan unveiled, includes a proposal to include in the EPBD to make rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels mandatory on new commercial and public buildings, as well as new residential buildings by 2029.

I represent that Parliaments largest Group, the European Peoples Party (EPP), in the negotiations of the EPBD. In my amendments to this legislation, I included a new article to address the rooftop initiative. Of course, solar generation capacity differs across the union and Member States should have suffi cient flexibility to operate support schemes. Nonetheless, the technology has advanced to the point where it is also a viable solution for northern Europe as well as sunnier south.

Rooftop solar PV in a sense is a low hanging fruit if we want to see a swift and cost effective ramp up of green power capacity. Approximately half of the energy consumed in Europe is used for heating and cooling, most of this is based on fossil fuels. Solar heating & cooling (SHC) technologies can displace the need to use natural gas, protecting consumers from fl uctuations energy prices.

By 2030, the Commission has said that solar energy could provide a quarter of the EU's electricity, which is more than is currently generated in gas-fired power stations. The energy system must undergo a fundamental change, the envisaged mass installations of solar generation will create millions of "prosumers", who both produce and consume energy. This is my view will aid the speed of the energy transition as citizens become more directly involved.

Millions of homes and buildings across the EU have potential not realised, but we also ensure we have the skilled workers on hand to install the technologies.

For this, I believe we need to see a coordinated and clear effort by the Commission and Member States to address the issue of skills. Member States must invest in capacity building, technical assistance and on upskilling and reskilling policies to realise the twin transition of a green and digital transition.

Over the next few years and decades, we will have massive challenges ahead, some of which we may not even fully appreciate yet. However, the role of solar technology will only increase in meeting these challenges.

Seán Kelly MEP has been an MEP for Ireland South since 2009 and is the leader of the Fine Gael delegation in the European Parliament. A member of the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee, Kelly has worked extensively on renewable energy and energy effi ciency policy.