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The current energy crisis invites us to accelerate transitions in the building sector

Olivier ABULI, advice and analyses consultant

February 4, 2022

This is an unprecedented situation. Since last autumn, rising energy prices have been hampering the European economic recovery and threatening entire sectors of activity. Ironically, the "nuclear shield" was of no use until the end of January, because of the market mechanisms linking electricity prices to those of gas.

The result of this sequence at the national level : 150 millions euros of support for the industry will be lost in the last quarter of 2021 ; 45,000 jobs will be threatened, and strategic sites will be shut down or idled due to lack of profitability... For several weeks now, the press has been full of examples, some of them grotesque, which temporarily run counter to our ambitions to promote a sovereign and low-carbon economy. These include for example : a sawmill stopping its electricity supply in favor of a diesel-powered generator ; the mothballing of France last zinc manufacturing unit for two months ; the drop in production at Europe largest aluminum smelter in Dunkirk ; and, last but not least, the emblematic case of the Ascoval steel plant, whose owner threatened to relocate 40% of its activity to Germany to benefit from the lower cost electricity made from coal...

The economic liberalities validated by Brussels in aid and tax breaks and the pressure exerted by Bercy on EDF to increase the annual volume of ARENH (Regulated Access to Historical Nuclear Energy meaning that EDF must sell one megawatt hour at € 42 to its competitors) should ultimately allow to get over the 2022 winter.

Nevertheless, this high-intensity stress test should urge us to accelerate transitions. Otherwise, the risk would be to regularly squander part of the resources intended for them in one-off compensation interventions. This would be detrimental to competitive investments that would contribute to reduce our harmful dependence on fossil fuels.

As they represent 44% of the final energy consumed in France, the building stock and the construction activities are the pivotal point for priority transformations.

Buildings, a powerful vector of savings, a source of energy production

As it was presented in April 2018, the Energy Renovation Plan for Buildings for the five-years’ period covered €14 billion in investments and incentives plus €5 billion in energy saving certificates used to directly finance work.

In 2020 and 2021, the stimulus plan will consolidate resources for commercial real estate : 4 billion euros for public buildings, 500 million euros for social landlords and 200 million euros for very small businesses and SMEs.

At the same time, the government has held lengthy consultations with industry to define the contours of the RE 2020 standard for new buildings. It will replace the RT 2012 standard on January 1st, 2022.

It is demanding because it requires modeling of carbon emissions related to the building life cycle, from its design to its demolition. It directs its efforts towards energy passiveness ; in fact, it tightens the technical options towards prefabricated or wood-frame solutions and tends towards the abandonment of fossil fuels for heating or cooling. It also forces us to think about self-production using photovoltaic, micro-wind and geothermal energy...

July 2019 decree on the renovation of office buildings : in force from September 30th, 2022.

It concerns all tenants or owners of an office building, either private or public, of more than 1,000 m2, or mixed building including an office surface of at least 1,000 m2.

This regulation aims at reducing their final energy consumption by 40% in 2030, 50% in 2040 and 60% in 2050. The reference year must be taken from the 2010 decade.

Each year, owners and tenants who are subject to this regulation will have to file a statement on the OPERAT platform managed by ADEME to report on the evolution of consumption, the work done and the progress of their reduction plan.

Failure to declare will be punished : first, after formal notice, by the publication on a website open to the public of the list of companies and organizations in default. Then, after reminder, by an administrative fine of 1 500 € for individuals and 7 500 € for legal entities.

This regulation deals with a tertiary real estate stock of more than one billion m2.

In this strategic sector, the path is thus marked out : the frameworks and means are rolled out to reduce our national energy consumption by about 8% within eight years.

But in terms of planning of major works, 2030 is almost tomorrow.

Solutions do exist. They are precisely on Take action !

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