ZIA Energy Task Force contributes to debate

The topic of sustainable buildings is high on the political agenda in Europe at present. The current target is for all new builds to comply with the ultra-low energy standard from 2021 onwards in order to protect natural resources.

The issue occupying both politicians and the real estate industry is when and how this ultra-low energy standard can be achieved. In a sustainable building, there are actually three factors that need to come together: cost efficiency, ecology and integration into the social environment. None of these three points can be ignored when considering the overall picture. As the main body representing the interests of the German real estate industry, the German Property Federation (Zentraler Immobilien Ausschuss e.V. – ZIA) shares this holistic perspective. In a joint initiative with its Energy Task Force, the ZIA recently commissioned a report from independent expert Professor M. Norbert Fisch to determine the extent to which the climate policy requirements enshrined in the ultra-low energy standard due to apply from 2021 onwards are already covered by the tougher regulations in the updated German Energy Saving Ordinance (Energieeinsparverordnung, EnEV), which came into force in January 2016. Professor Fisch is an iconic figure in his field. His roles include director of the Institute for Building Services and Energy Design at Braunschweig University of Technology, as well as director of EGS-plan Ingenieurgesellschaft für Energie-, Gebäude- und Solartechnik, an engineering consultancy focusing on energy, building and solar technology.

Report findings

The findings of his report on offices, hotels and shopping centres are very clear, and are now being reflected in the lobbying activities of the ZIA Energy Task Force. Professor Fisch’s work shows that proper implementation of the EnEV as updated in 2016 will lead to simultaneously fulfilling the ultra-low energy standard set to apply from 2021. According to the investigations conducted while preparing the report, there is no case for further tightening of thermal insulation standards for buildings on the basis of either energy policy or climate policy. Rather than raising building standards even more – and thereby jeopardising the affordability of new builds – the real estate industry should pursue other, more creative ways of improving the sector's environmental efficiency. The 2016 EnEV ordinance already reduces the permitted annual primary energy requirement for new builds by an average of 25 per cent compared to the previous EnEV standard and raises the bar with regard to minimum thermal insulation of the building envelope by an average of 20 per cent – not for the first time. Since 2009, standards in the building sector have already been tightened by 55 per cent. Other areas, such as transport and agriculture, have made a much smaller contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change.

In his assessment, Professor Fisch reaches an unambiguous conclusion. “The current building efficiency standard, which derives from the 2016 EnEV regulations and German legislation aimed at promoting renewable energy in the heating sector (EEWärmeG), already represents the absolute financial and technical maximum with regard to office buildings,” he says. He goes on to explain: “Tightening regulations any further would curb technological freedom and flexibility.” The term “technological freedom” refers to the principle that legislation should avoid prescribing the use of certain technologies. In the shopping centre sector, Fisch believes that the old 2009 EnEV standard represented the limits of what is technically and financially feasible.


Developing alternative options

Using the external report as a basis, the ZIA Energy Task Force is developing alternative options, such as further reducing CO2 emissions from commercial properties while retaining the same high building standard as per 2016 EnEV. One of the Task Force’s suggestions relates to the increased – and mandatory – use of certified green electricity and gas. The proportion used would be taken into account when calculating a property’s primary energy requirement. In addition, ZIA wants to encourage people not just to measure the energy performance of individual buildings, but also to include entire ensembles and smart city projects in the evaluation process. Owners and landlords of these ensembles would benefit from greater planning flexibility as a result.

The ZIA also points out that fiscal obstacles to incorporating renewable energy systems into commercial properties should be removed. In this way, landlords could generate renewable energy directly on site, for example by operating photovoltaic systems, and provide it to tenants. In the longer term, it is conceivable that landlords could become energy suppliers or at least work more closely with existing energy suppliers. The ZIA Energy Task Force will pursue this issue and many others in its future work.

An article by:

Thies Grothe, Head of Building Policy Fundamentals at the ZIA

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