The ongoing revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is a pivotal moment for the European Union to lead the way towards a greener and more sustainable future. As the EU strives for a decarbonized built environment, it is crucial to approach building renovation with a holistic perspective that places the safety of EU citizens at its core. The EPBD revision offers a unique opportunity to achieve sustainability goals, but it requires a concerted effort to address fire safety concerns associated with the adoption of innovative technologies.
The EPBD revision seeks to decarbonize European buildings by promoting electrification solutions such as photovoltaic panels, electric vehicle charging points, and heat pumps. These measures undoubtedly contribute to a cleaner and more efficient built environment, aligning with the EU’s commitment to combat climate change. However, these innovations also introduce new electrical loads to building systems, potentially increasing the risk of electrical fires.
Indeed, estimates indicate that 50% of accidental fires in European dwellings have an electrical source. Additionally, an estimated 132 million domestic electrical installations are obsolete as they were built more than 30 years ago and neither inspected nor revised/upgraded. Such data from the Forum for European Electrical Domestic Safety (FEEDS) emphasize the urgent need to address fire safety as a significant challenge in the deployment of decarbonization solutions.
“It would not make sense to renovate any home to improve its energy performance while leaving it unsafe because of an obsolete electrical installation. Particularly for the most vulnerable citizens who live in the leakiest and least fire safe buildings. Inspecting and upgrading electrical installations must be part of any renovation plan” Theresa Griffin, Chair of the Forum for European Electrical Domestic Safety (FEEDS).
If not addressed properly, fire, electrical, and also gas and CO safety may become a major obstacle to the deployment of solutions and technologies incentivized by the EPBD revision to decarbonise the built environment. Lack of safety awareness and understanding among building owners, occupants, and the general public may lead to tragic accidents and to concerns and resistance to the deployment of decarbonisation solutions.
To ensure a safe transformation of the built environment, thirteen organizations focused on enhancing the safety of European citizens have united to request the inclusion of fire safety references suggested by the European Parliament in the EPBD revision. This collective plea, also echoed by the Federation of European Fire Officers, highlights the importance of prioritizing safety to build a sustainable and secure future for all occupants of buildings.
The European Parliament’s report on the EPBD revision strikes the right balance by encouraging the integration of fire safety measures while respecting national competences: Member States remain fully in charge of how to address safety through their building codes but fire safety challenges are the same across borders, as highlighted by academics in the IAFSS Agenda 2030 for a fire safe world. The EU’s role as a facilitator of cooperation does not diminish the importance of subsidiarity. On the contrary, it reinforces the principle by allowing Member States to retain control while offering them the tools to navigate fire safety challenges more efficiently. Indeed, if the EPBD acknowledges the importance of fire safety, the Commission can facilitate information and best practices exchanges via the Concerted Action EPDB, the EU Fire Information Exchange Platform and other initiatives, such as EU funded programmes (e.g. Horizon EU, Erasmus+, LIFE).
“It is time for the European Union to support Member States in delivering a safe decarbonisation of the built environment. We are confident that the European Parliament’s proposals will equip Member States with the essential tools to provide our citizens with safe, sustainable, and resilient buildings”, Eugenio Quintieri, Managing Director of Fire Safe Europe.
The benefits of EU coordination become even more apparent when addressing challenges posed by emerging technologies, such as solar power. Solar energy presents a promising solution to combatting climate change, but its integration into buildings requires careful consideration of fire safety risks. In addition, improper installation and maintenance of solar panels can pose a fire hazard. As a result, it is crucial to ensure that fire safety measures are integrated when deploying solar panels and other electrification solutions in buildings to reduce the risk of electrical fires and maintain building safety. The European Parliament position invites Member States to encourage fire safety considerations when installing solar energy on buildings, allowing flexibility to Member States to define specific requirements based on individual needs and local specificities. In the same spirit, an amendment of the European Parliament requires the Commission to develop guidelines for fire safety of roofed car parks with recharging infrastructure. Without waiting the conclusion of the on-going trilogue, the EU Commission already started to work on these much-needed guidelines with the support of the sector and Member States.
“The EPBD presents a crucial opportunity to ensure that fire safety adequately accompanies the energy transition through the development of competence, knowledge and regular inspections. This is considered as a priority of fire safety experts who produced the European Fire Safety Action Plan, the very first evidence and knowledge-based fire safety agenda for Europe”, Krzysztof Biskup, Chair of the European Fire Safety Alliance (EuroFSA).
In conclusion, the EPBD revision holds immense potential to shape the future of the EU’s building stock towards sustainability and safety. By acknowledging the significance of fire safety in conjunction with energy efficiency, the revision can pave the way for resilient, decarbonized, and safe buildings. Member States must seize the opportunity to integrate fire safety cohesively in the EPBD revision, benefiting from the Commission’s support and ensuring the safety and well-being of EU citizens for generations to come.