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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 10:19 GMT
'Action needed' on home emissions
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Gas ring
Rising energy prices are bringing a new emphasis on efficiency
European governments and the European Commission are being urged to hasten the development of housing that produces no greenhouse gases.

The European Energy Network (ENR), which includes energy advisory bodies across the EU, says better enforcement of green building codes is also needed.

Less than a quarter of EU states have introduced certification schemes for houses, as required under EU law.

European governments have agreed to boost energy efficiency by 20% by 2020.

The ENR report, a snapshot of legislation and other action across member states, will be formally released on Tuesday.

"One implication of our findings is that the European Commission needs to take some leadership and set a timetable for all new buildings around Europe to be zero-carbon," said Philip Sellwood, chief executive of Britain's Energy Saving Trust (EST), an ENR member.

The average UK home has the potential to save 300 per year by just installing the most effective measures
Philip Sellwood
For national governments, ENR says, a priority should be to introduce energy performance certificates that give houses an "energy rating", a key requirement of the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive.

The report describes lack of progress on this issue as "disappointing".

Simple savings

Some countries, the report says, are making considerable progress on improving energy efficiency, which many experts agree is the simplest way to slash fossil fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Britain has introduced energy performance certificates and set a target of building only zero-carbon homes from 2016.

Even so, Mr Sellwood says the government has not set up the support mechanisms needed to encourage householders to invest in energy saving measures.

"In the UK, the average home has the potential to save 300 per year by just installing the most effective measures such as loft insulation and modern heating controls," said Mr Sellwood.

Smart meters
Smart meters can be an effective way of reducing electricity use
"Energy supply companies are under an obligation to help their customers become more energy efficient; but lots of householders don't trust their energy companies.

"So we have these schemes within national government, local authorities and supply companies; what we don't have is a long term strategy for sustainable housing."

Where the UK has fallen down in the past, EST notes, is on the enforcement of building codes.

In Germany, economic factors meant that until recently, energy efficiency was not generally a priority, according to Markus Kratz of Project Management Juelich, a research consultancy engaged by the national government.

"Industry did not want to lose any of its market, and there was some public resistance against energy efficiency when energy prices were low," he said.

"Now prices are rising, and that is changing."

Regional differences

Few European countries have seen such rapid economic growth in recent times as Ireland, where the "Celtic tiger" phenomenon stimulated the house-building industry, with demand and prices quickly rising.

Joe Durkan from the House of Tomorrow Programme, a project of the government agency Sustainable Energy Ireland, believes the introduction of energy performance certificates in this thriving house-building sector has raised the profile of energy efficiency.

"There's lots of information about it, and lots of excitement," he told BBC News.

"Builders are now using it as a marketing tool; the certificates have a sliding scale from A to G, and developers are now competing to offer A1 certificates on the properties they have for sale."

The ENR report comes at the beginning of European Sustainable Energy week, which will see a series of events and seminars on various aspects of the issue convened by the European Commission.

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