Improving the energy performance of non-residential buildings

To meet European and national climate targets, EU Member States must transition their building stock to zero emissions by 2050. This entails shifting heating systems to renewable energy sources and improving the building’s energy efficiency through thermal retrofits. In December 2023, the EU agreed a revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) which introduces “Minimum Energy Performance Standards” (MEPS) for non-residential buildings. Under the revised EPBD, 16% of the worst-performing non-residential buildings will need to be renovated by 2030 and 26% by 2033. Non-residential buildings include schools, hospitals, offices and shops. They account for around 30% of the total floor area in the EU and 34% of the final energy demand for heating and hot water.

Setting meaningful minimum energy performance standards

A new study conducted by the Oeko-Institut and the Institute for Housing and Environment (IWU) on behalf of the European Climate Foundation explores how MEPS have already been rolled out in many countries and regions and summarises the lessons learned. It also identifies the steps that Member States should now take in order to implement the EU directive successfully. They include: 1) collecting reliable data on the non-residential building stock; 2) determining how MEPS are defined at national level; 3) translating the EU standards into specific requirements for individual buildings (e.g. using energy performance classes); and 4) establishing a system to support building owners in meeting the retrofitting requirements.

MEPS mean planning certainty for all stakeholders. The standards put the focus on the worst-performing buildings where renovation can achieve the largest energy cost savings and reductions of climate-damaging emissions.
Malte Bei der Wieden
Researcher/ Energy & Climate

Malte Bei der Wieden, a researcher in the Oeko-Institut’s Energy and Climate Division and an expert on the heat transition says: “MEPS do not necessarily mean that a full refurbishment must be carried out. For example, in many cases, simply replacing the windows or the heating system is enough to meet the standards. MEPS can help to keep down the total costs of the heat transition by avoiding ill-advised investments that are not compatible with a climate-neutral building stock."

Mitigation potential for non-residential buildings in Germany

The research team also looked at how to define the “worst-performing” buildings. For Germany, specific threshold values aligned with the EU standards were derived for the first time for individual buildings using representative data on the non-residential building stock collected by the Institute for Housing and Environment in a previous project. The study also estimates the mitigating effect of MEPS for non-residential buildings and concludes that the mechanism has the potential to save up to 2 Mt of CO2 emissions per year in Germany in 2030.

“MEPS for non-residential buildings can contribute substantially to achieving climate targets in the building sector. They also serve as a kind of safety net within the policy mix,” Malte Bei der Wieden concludes. He is also calling for a supporting policy framework to unlock the mechanism’s full potential, with measures such as adjustments of energy prices, energy consultancy services, and minimum standards related to building components. “Building owners should not be left to achieve compliance with the MEPS on their own. Targeted support is particularly important.”

Minimum Energy Performance Standards for Non-Residential Buildings: study by the Oeko-Institut and the Institute for Housing and Environment.