By Gauthier Vannieuwenhuyse for Salans

Since 2002, France has been developing a well-thought-out national strategy on sustainable development that gathers the State, local representatives, eco-defending associations, private companies and civil society. In 2007, the “Grenelle de l’Environnement” project was launched in order to fight against climate changes by putting energy needs under control, protecting biodiversity and natural resources, creating a health-friendly environment, setting up sustainable production and consumption habits, and promoting ecological development strategies that foster both employment and competitiveness. It is a two-step program that, in 2009, led to the adoption of the first law commonly referred to as “Grenelle I” that delineates the leading areas submitted to new regulations. The second law (“Grenelle II”) that was voted on May 11, 2010 will carry out the implementation of the “Grenelle” project and the “Grenelle I” law.

The “Grenelle” project’s main goal is to reduce energy consumption through the regulation of key areas such as the construction area. For instance, by 2020, the State wants to favour the development of the “positive energy building”, a building that produces at least as much energy as it consumes. It is to be noted that the construction area is responsible for 40 % of the final energy consumption and approximately one fourth of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the “Grenelle I” law, constructors of new buildings have to comply with a thermal regulation that relies on technological and industrial updates so as to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. In this perspective, some changes have to be made regarding both the design of the buildings and their weatherstripping.

All new private buildings subjected to a building license request presented as of end 2012 will be expected to have an average primary consumption below 50 kilowatt-hour per square metre per year (KW/H/m²/year). This requirement can be adapted to specific cases where the energies used in the construction do not go beyond the greenhouse gas emissions legal threshold. Therefore, the building location, characteristics and purpose will also be taken into consideration. These criteria will also apply to adapt the buildings maximum heating threshold instated by the law. Moreover, the process described above is binding as regards to public and service sector buildings that are subjected to a building license requested as of end 2010.

All new buildings subject to a building license which has been submitted as of end 2020 will be required to show a primary consumption rate lower than the quantity of renewable energy produced by these buildings, in particular wood energy.

Since the implementation of the law, State property buildings have been undergoing auditing in order to treat their non-sustainable areas by 2012. This measure is intended to lower energy consumptions by 40% and greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in these buildings within an 8 year delay.

Indeed, the existing buildings use on average 250 KW/H/m²/year in a city like Paris and the objective is to lower the consumption by 38% until 2020. The State will therefore be completely renovating 400,000 dwellings every year as of 2013.

Moreover, up to 50 millions m² of State property buildings and 70 millions m² of public companies need refurbishment so as to comply with the “Grenelle I” rules. Article 5 allows for private-public partnerships as a mean to achieve the necessary renovation work. The State takes into account the reduction of energy consumption requirements mentioned in the paragraph above and is therefore entailed to impose a contract based on energetic performance that encompasses conception, execution and exploitation or maintenance services where the energetic efficiency provision is contractually guaranteed. In fact, imposing an energetic performance test at every stage of the project increases chances of meeting the standards established by the “Grenelle I” law.

As to the social aspect of the law, 800,000 social dwellings will be refurbished before the end of 2020 in order to reach a primary energy consumption inferior to 150 KW/H/m²/year. Nowadays, the primary energy consumption of these buildings is superior to 230 KW/H/m²/year.

The French government plans on providing green constructors with advantageous financial measures. It aims at helping them making deals with banks and insurance companies in order to foster investments financing. It will also supervise the drafting of simplified contract templates on energetic performance adapted to the different concerned areas (residential, services, industrial) so as to make them easily accessible. It will support the insurance companies in providing an appropriate coverage for refurbishment works in residential areas.

Finally, the French government will promote the research linked to the construction of new generation low-consumption buildings. This initiative will be accompanied by training sessions dedicated to professionals, which will be held several times a year. These trainings will mainly focus on refurbishment, thermal and energetic performances, noise and quality of the air inside.

As a conclusion, we can say that France is going through a green revolution that is opening a brand new flourishing market for constructors who want to build tomorrow’s eco-focused future. Between refurbishment and new buildings construction, “Grenelle I” has fairly high expectations. More is to come with “Grenelle II”, the second law of the project which will be analyzed in a next article.

Gauthier Vannieuwenhuyse and Victoria Schulsinger


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