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Nearly-zero energy and zero-emission buildings

From 2030, the standard for new buildings will be raised from ‘nearly-zero energy buildings’ to ‘zero-emission buildings'.

As Europe’s largest energy consumer - buildings have a critical role to play in achieving the EU’s ambition of becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. 

Since 2020, all new buildings in the EU are required to be ‘nearly-zero energy buildings’. This will be replaced by a further enhanced ‘zero-emission buildings’ requirement, starting from 2028 for new buildings owned by public bodies and 2030 for all other new buildings. 

Nearly-zero energy buildings 

Nearly-zero energy buildings, is a requirement introduced by the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive EU/31/2010 (revised in 2018). It means that all new buildings – as of 2020 - must have a high energy performance and very low-energy needs, covered largely by onsite and nearby renewable energy sources. 

According to a 2021 report, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found that this requirement will improve the energy performance of new buildings in the EU by 70%, compared to 2006.

Zero-emission buildings

The recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) (EU/2024/1275), adopted in May 2024, enhances the energy performance requirements for new buildings. It requires all new residential and non-residential buildings to be zero-emission buildings as of 1 January 2028 for buildings owned by public bodies and 1 January 2030 for all other new buildings, with the possibility for specific exemptions. According to the revised directive, a zero-emission building has no on-site carbon emissions from fossil fuels and a very high energy performance. The new rules will therefore align the energy performance of buildings with the EU’s climate neutrality goal for 2050 and the energy efficiency first principle.

As for nearly-zero energy buildings, the very small amount of energy still required for zero-emission buildings is covered by energy from on-site and nearby renewable energy sources, including from renewable energy communities and efficient district heating and cooling (in accordance with Article 26(1) of the 2023 Energy Efficiency Directive). 

Zero-emission buildings will also support grid flexibility, by providing decentralised renewable energy generation at household or community level, electric and thermal energy storage, better demand response and smart charging, which will reduce demand and contribute to the overall energy grid supply.

With a view to achieving the decarbonisation of the building stock by 2050, the recast EPBD also foresees that  deep renovation should transform buildings into zero-emission buildings after 2030.

Implementation, monitoring and reporting

EU countries share their national plans for nearly-zero energy buildings (NZEBs) with the Commission and describe how they intend to increase the number of NZEBs in their respective country.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive requires EU countries to develop long-term renovation strategies aiming to facilitate the cost-effective transformation of existing buildings into NZEBs. The revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive reinforced them into national building renovation plans. The Commission monitors the progress made by EU countries to increase the number of NZEBs. 

  • In 2016, the Commission developed guidelines for the promotion of NZEBs in order to ensure that by 2020, all new buildings are NZEBs.
  • NZEBs were one of the topics addressed in the Concerted Action EPBD forum and provided an overview of national applications of the NZEB definitions (2018).
  • In 2019, a comprehensive study of building energy renovation activities and the uptake of NZEBs in the EU was prepared for the Commission.
  • Integrated reporting on NZEB is requested within the National Energy and Climate Plans reporting obligations.
  • In October 2023, the Commission published a report including indication of overall progress of EU countries’ increase in the number of NZEBs.

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