Editorial September 2013



The Environmental Conference, involving government, Parliament, local authorities, employers, trade unions and environmental organizations, which took place in Paris on 20 and 21 September 2013, specified the objectives and means of the French current environmental policy.

 A long-term vision

2050: a first objective had been defined in the energy law passed in 2005 : a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 by 75% compared to 1990 (called “factor 4” – i.e. division by 4 emissions of greenhouse gases). The President of the Republic defined a second objective : a decrease in final energy consumption in 2050 by 50 % compared to 2013, a new goal not shared by the French employers.

2030: a new goal, also set by the President of the Republic: a decrease of 30% compared to 2013 of energy consumption from fossil fuels.

2025: a reminder of the commitment made in 2012 by the President of the Republic, a decline in the share of nuclear energy from 75% to 50% in the production of electricity.

2020: a reminder of the objectives contained in the European context: a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990, over 20% energy efficiency compared to 2005, a portion equal to 23% of renewable energy in total energy consumption (compared to 9% today).

These are ambitious and proactive goals, breaking with current practices and behaviors.

Also worth noting, one highly expected by many economists measure: the creation in 2014 of a carbon tax reaching € 22 per ton of CO2 in 2016.

The issue of low energy new buildings is (almost) resolved

Real estate, which in France consumes 44% of energy, emits 23% CO2 and 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, is at the heart of the challenge of the energy and environmental transition.
Action on buildings is in the perspective of the sustainable city, with its three main dimensions: urban planning choices (fight against urban sprawl and soil sealing), energy efficient buildings (new and especially existing stock) and transformation of transportation modes.

The issue of energy efficiency of new construction is solved: the techniques exist with controlled costs. The French 2012 thermal regulation divided by 2 or 3, depending on the energy, consumption for five uses (heating, hot water, cooling, lighting, auxiliary equipment) compared to the 2005 regulations, without significantly increasing investment costs and with a substantial reduction in operating costs. The French 2012 thermal regulation is one of the most ambitious thermal regulations in the world.

In France, only one part of the individual house builders control inadequately the 2012 thermal regulation. And today hundreds of buildings are experimenting with the future 2020 regulation which will ensure that new buildings will produce almost as much energy as they consume.

An ambitious plan for the energy renovation of the building stock

But more than 90% of the building stock in 2020 and more than 2/ 3 of the stock in 2050 exist today. The big question is the massive energy renovation of existing buildings. The goal of the renovation of 500,000 units per year from 2017 (380,000 private dwellings and 120 000 social housing) will be difficult to achieve.

Significant resources are put in place : a decree imposing energy improvement of all private and public nonresidential buildings to be published in 2014, soft loans and tax exemptions for social housing and, for private housing, zero-interest loans and tax credits with no income limits, subsidies for the middle classes, strong support for low-income households, funding by local authorities, VAT to 5% for all work on thermal renovation, one planned guarantee fund avoiding work advance payment by households, businesses must be labeled to complete the work supported by the public authorities from July 2014, passport renewal for each building, 450 household information points distributed throughout the country, 2000 “ambassadors” for energy renovation …

It will soon be interesting to compare the effectiveness of the French method with its German counterpart, focused on the KfW public bank and the British Green Deal.

In France, three conditions seem essential to the success of such a plan: mobilizing professionals, the building users and local authorities.

The necessary transformation of professional skills

The construction sector is not ready to undertake such a thermal renovation scheme, especially among SMEs and craftsmen. These companies are usually specialized in one or two trades and do not have a comprehensive thermal vision of a house or apartment. At the end of 2012, of 337,000 building companies and craftsmen, only about 6,000 are eco-labeled.

The time spent negotiating with the household owning its house or condo makes its renovation unprofitable. The “business model” needs to be invented. But individual houses and apartments owned by households represent roughly 28 million homes on the existing portfolio of 33 million.
In the nonresidential sector, only the big business stock is managed professionally. Properties of the majority of the assets of central government, local authorities and SMEs are not professionally managed.

Improving the energy efficiency of a building involves the simultaneous management of renovation work, a better control of the operation and negotiation leading to a change in the user behavior. Only a minority of professionals master today the three dimensions of the energy efficiency of a building. This is why the public owners of the property (state, local) have so far blocked the publication of the decree mandating improved energy efficiency in the service sector.

Mobilization, improving skills and professionalization of the real estate and construction players, especially through the “Plan Bâtiment Durable” (Sustainable Building Plan), is the first condition of success.

The essential role of the occupants and local authorities

The second condition is the mobilization of the users. These are the building occupants that give the actual energy consumption. In both tertiary and more in residential sector, the occupants choose the indoor temperature, use office equipment and household appliances, have some ventilation practices, more or less master the equipment in the building (heating, air conditioning, hot water, shutters … ). Their role is central.

Finally, property and construction actors are highly differentiated. Moreover, real estate is closely articulated to urban planning and transport. It serves no purpose to live in a zero energy home if the inhabitants have to drive 20 miles every day to get there. Mobilization of territories, especially the regions and cities, is strategic. It is at these levels that are articulated urban planning, real estate and transport and where SMEs and craftsmen, who represent the majority of professionals, act.