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Setting higher energy efficiency standards and renewable energy requirements

In most European countries, building codes and energy standards are defined at the national level. However, through local planning systems, municipalities may have means to impose more demanding standards to new buildings and renovations, promoting better energy efficiency, more advanced energy technologies and lower carbon emissions. This will also motivate the local construction industry to move in the direction of more environmentally friendly technologies.

Local standards and regulations need to be well integrated to avoid inconsistencies and demanding extra requirements if these are not effective. Good integration of codes, standards and regulations also guarantees the combination of energy efficiency performance with renewable energy generation.

Most effective standards and regulations coexist with other push and pull factors such as incentives, soft loans and information, which allows potential initial barriers to be overcome. In this regard, information and advice services on energy efficiency and renewable energy for citizens and businesses and setting up of public-private partnerships can have an impact on facilitating the adoption of the criteria imposed by the public administration bodies in local regulations.

In addition, standards and regulations must be adaptable to a changing construction market, shifting energy targets at the national level and new technologies. Public administration bodies should involve stakeholders, and changes in policies related to standards and regulations should be announced far in advance to give the industry time to adjust and develop cost-effective solutions.

The action of setting higher standards and requirements should start with a preparation stage in which standards are set at the appropriate scale, based on current standards and regulations, and with enough flexibility to adjust to specific sites and building types. Special consideration should be given to buildings with specific requirements, like buildings of historic value or located in areas of special conservation. Within this stage, it is essential to define the timescale for the development and implementation of the standard, the funding sources, the capacity building of the municipality staff and a mechanism of enforcement and control.

After the standard is defined, public administration bodies should control the implementation of the standard, first on paper (early stage of planning), before the work is commissioned (new construction or renovation), and finally after one or two years of operation, to confirm that the system performs as required.

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