25 February 2021

France’s Eco-energy initiative for office buildings, or how to tap a well of energy savings!

With climate change a hot topic, France’s “ELAN” Act materializes the obligations of service sector buildings in its “Eco Energie Tertiaire” measures. Second only to housing, the service sector with 975 million square metres of activity space represents a third of the national energy consumption in buildings, and that means a big potential for energy savings. Here’s our update with Jerôme Beccavin, head of the Building, Sustainable Town, and Private property division of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region’s Environment, Development, and Housing directorate (DREAL). 

Jerôme Beccavin, head of the Building,
Sustainable Town, and Private property division
of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region’s Environment,
Development, and Housing directorate (DREAL)

Tell us what the Eco energy measures for service sector buildings involve.

The “Elan” Act of 2018 is the starting point of this process. Following on from general legislation in the wake of the “Grenelle” environment talks, it lays down regulatory obligations for commercial and office buildings in public and private sectors alike. Since the turn of the millennium, regulations have prioritized energy efficiency in housing. Now it’s time to focus on shops and offices, which account for 1/3 of French buildings, which in turn consume 46% of the country’s energy. We must also keep in mind that this activity space consists of 2/3 private sector and 1/3 public sector. Those therefore are the figures that outline the government’s action priorities. 
All service sector buildings greater than 1000m² in area are concerned by the new “Eco Energy Tertiaire” measures: offices, shops, hotels, stations, civic centres, regional government offices, etc.

What objectives have been set?

Based on a benchmark year later than 2010, the exact year being chosen by the property manager, the objective is to achieve a final energy consumption reduction of at least 40% in 2030, 50% in 2040, and 60% in 2050. For very recent buildings or those renovated to current standards, the base year is irrelevant as the reduction goals can never be met. In such cases, the managers can aim for a theoretical threshold value set by local order. Moreover, there can be certain waivers for buildings of historical importance or interest—like a Prefecture or even the Elysée Palace—for which the work involved would be disproportionate and hard to justify in light of the expected gains. 
Property managers must anticipate and start work now on examining their buildings, their consumption, their energy saving potential—it may seem a long way off but 40% by 2030 is no mean objective and everyone must be all set for this challenge.

Beside renovation work, do property managers have any other action levers?

The obligation is to reduce consumption, not to carry out specific works. Three levers can be considered: usage, equipment, and lastly works. It is entirely possible to reduce a building’s energy consumption significantly simply by getting the occupants to cooperate. For example aircon could be used less intensively in summer, thermostats could be set lower in winter, or the building occupation could be reorganized. Programming equipment whose control is left to the occupants or the owner is another way to act on consumption; for example, automatically extinguishing office lighting at night or not switching on heating in unoccupied areas. The property manager must then analyse the possible energy savings that can be achieved then decide whether further work is needed to fulfil the measures.
Obligations are thus shared between owners, managers, and users. If it seems a bit complicated to get all these acting together, a contract assigning actions and results could be the solution.

What will be the implementation sequence?

A digital platform dedicated to these measures has been set up by the ecological transition agency (ADEME). The OPERAT feature is already accessible but still not totally operational. Each owner must enter all the technical data of their property unit or cluster and once a year enter their consumption data. This tool will enable accurate consumption monitoring along with data extraction for further analysis. At the same time, the government can use the platform to study the savings made.

How have service sector property managers welcomed these measures?

For the public sector, substantial aid has been allocated to local councils in the scope of the economic restart plan and work is already beginning. For private sector building lots, property managers seem a bit more cautious. It’s understandable in that they get no aid. But beyond that, energy renovation work in the private sector needs to be motivated by market realities and the meeting of customer expectations. These expectations are however changing. In newbuild, property developments are competing on energy performance. The highest performers sell very well and at a premium. But available property is going to become scarcer and scarcer in city centres. This will affect the market for newbuild and favour refurbishment. We can then imagine how energy efficiency might give a competitive edge, with clients demanding ever higher performance from their buildings. Managers will then be left with no choice but to undertake the necessary work in order to keep their property value up. 

 What conditions must be fulfilled for successful implementation?

We’re hoping first of all that the public sector will drag the private sector with it. But a new market awareness is driving expectations of higher energy performance, and this should set the wheels in motion to achieve the objectives set in the measures. Private property managers must change their outlook on regulations and welcome them as an opportunity rather than a constraint. 

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