Climate change has become a global challenge, which is why representatives of countries worldwide convened for an international UN Climate Change Conference called “COP 26” in Glasgow in early November 2021. In order to advance the targets fixed in the Paris Climate Agreement, the conference discussed future funding for climate change mitigation and financial support for developing countries. For Germany, the conference is also a reminder that there are plenty of domestic challenges, too. Especially the buildings sector has moved into focus in conjunction with carbon-cutting plans because the construction and operation of real property accounts for about one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Energy-efficient building and living is therefore a good way to start being part of the solution.
To determine just how energy-efficient a given building is, the German Government uses a notional benchmark building whose permissible energy consumption is defined as 100 percent – the so-called “efficiency house 100.” The benchmark building serves as reference for defining additional standards, such as the “efficiency house 40” where the figure implies the percentage of the permissible energy consumption for this type of building, compared to the benchmark building. There are now five such standards eligible for federal funding: the efficiency houses 85, 70, 55, 40 and 40 plus. It should be added that funding for new-build units not exceeding the “55” efficiency class will be suspended by 1 February 2022. The government funding amount depends on the energy consumption. In other words: The less energy a given houses consumes, the more energy-efficient it is and the higher the funding it qualifies for. The idea is to promote the construction of climate-friendly houses or the corresponding conversion of existing houses. According to the database of the German Energy Agency, there are now 139 registered residential building with a “40” energy performance certificate, the most efficient standard. The database counts 320 buildings that consume 55 percent of the benchmark building’s energy needs. By contrast, 143 buildings on record require a much higher amount of energy at 85 percent. This goes to show: The standards set by the German Government and the offer of low-interest loans for new-build construction are pointing in the right direction. However, development of such houses should be stepped up, because the number of buildings with an energy demand below the 100 percent benchmark add up to a total of just 812 across Germany, and this does not necessarily represent actual efficiency houses but includes those whose owners have applied for registration.
Since the bulk of the energy consumed by private households goes toward heating, the construction of energy-efficient buildings and the refurbishment of existing buildings represent a key element in the effort to achieve carbon neutrality. Making progress toward this goal requires skilled workers. Sadly, the construction economy is currently suffering from a skilled labour shortage. According to figures quoted in the ACCENTRO Homeownership Report, which was compiled for the 14th consecutive time in collaboration with the German Economic Institute (IW), barely 25 percent of the open positions in the HVAC and sanitary engineering sector can be filled. Young talent is also wanted in electrical site engineering and refrigeration engineering, with almost 80 percent of all jobs in these sectors remaining vacant. The effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 therefore requires not just investments in the construction sector but also in the development of professionals to reinforce the relevant trades. On the whole, the IW institute projects capex requirements of 500 billion euros between now and 2050 – for implementing energy efficiency measures alone. Additional capital expenditures toward maintenance and quality upgrades will bring the investment total up to 1.3 trillion euros, according to the institute’s calculations. This breaks down into annual expenditures of 43 billion euros that would have to be spent on the refurbishment of the German property stock – quite a tidy sum.