The current decade is pivotal for reaching milestones needed for transforming the building sector to meet net zero targets by 2050. Most technologies and approaches needed to deliver zero-carbon-ready buildings are not on track for the buildings sector comparable with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE Scenario).

Time is of essence. The world needs to deploy all available clean and efficient energy technologies in buildings in the 2020s and also prepare to integrate the innovations needed to achieve longer-term decarbonisation targets. At the same time, it is paramount to enhance energy security, increase people’s comfort, reduce energy bills and create new jobs. The current energy crisis that has driven up energy prices all around the world and heightened international energy security concerns, underscores the urgency to accelerate the clean energy transition.

Technology developers, manufacturers, builders, architects, engineers, urban planners, government regulators, and researchers, among many other specialists in buildings operation and construction, need to work collaboratively along supply chains, supported by adequate policies. Combined, they can urgently deliver solutions tailored to regional and local contexts to rapidly reduce reliance on fossil fuels throughout the building life cycle and deliver cost-effective energy renovation measures. Consumers can also play a key role, particularly in the short term, with actions such as changing temperature set points. These can have a considerable impact on reducing energy demand from homes and offices.

Challenges to achieve the 2030 buildings milestones compatible with the net zero emissions pathway mainly reside in upfront costs to deploy clean energy technologies, particularly compared to fossil-fuel-based or lower efficiency alternatives. New suitable financial and business models can play an important role in reducing upfront costs with subsidies, lower tariff structures, tax breaks and other incentives for clean energy deployment.

Regulations also need to be updated and new efficiency standards are required to be harmonised across countries enabling implementation and compliance through simplified and more effective practices. Another issue that needs to be tackled is education and training on the installation of clean and efficient alternatives.

Systemic aspects and system flexibility, facilitated by smart automatised control of buildings and behaviour changes, are key to advancing the contributions from different technologies and fully optimise the energy operation of buildings. A general recommendation emerged to build an integrated energy system perspective to zero-carbon buildings and communities, as is a critical foundation for the buildings sector.

The need to investigate and enhance the public acceptance (or “social readiness”) of solutions for ZCRBs was also a major theme for strategies and policy recommendations. Open-source platforms and tools at all levels (municipal, regional, national and international) are also key to create knowledge, raise stakeholder awareness, harmonise definitions and standards, enable communication, and provide opportunities for job training in clean energy.

Public funding support for R&D can enable knowledge generation but also the development, demonstration and commercialisation of technologies, business models and policy approaches aimed at serving societal needs. Knowledge sharing from collaborative national and international research and development can contribute to solving the decarbonisation of the building sector. The IEA’s Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs) is an unparalleled resource supporting the global energy transition, with over 6 000 experts worldwide, who represent nearly 300 public and private organisations, that enable governments and industries to advance the research, development and commercialisation of energy technologies.

This series of articles illustrates the wide coverage of the IEA’s TCPs in critical areas such as the decarbonisation of buildings. The table below summarises the key policy recommendations to address the challenges identified in this compilation of experts’ views presented in this report. 


Policy recommendations 

Market creation and standards

Review and upgrade building codes towards zero-carbon-ready buildings (ZCRB)

Buildings codes for new and renovated buildings

Adapt metrics to include CO2 performance requirements for ZCRBs to account for building construction and operation on emissions, in addition to energy.

Introduce smart-grid readiness indicators to include distributed energy resources (DER) and flexibility requirements at the building level and at the district scale (storage, smart meters, pre-cabling and installation of EV chargers and heat pumps).

Consider and adopt performance codes (in addition to prescriptive ones) to guarantee wider trade-off across measures.

Implement and increase stringency of equipment product efficiency standards, such as for heat pumps, lighting, solar thermal, and HVAC.

Buildings codes for existing buildings

Set mandatory requirements for retrofitting buildings (i.e. ZCRB certificates for buildings sold or rented).

Improve enforcement, monitoring and compliance of building codes

New building codes enforcement

Review enforcement practices that can reduce the burden on administrations, architects, engineers, and builders, and also take advantage of digitalisation and smartness for monitoring and control.

Establish intergovernmental cooperation on the development of certification tools, monitoring and compliance.

Develop ZCRB procurement specifications.

Introduce and update standards and communication protocols

Standards, labels, certificates and communication protocols

Introduce labelling and certification to inform occupants and owners of performance levels for buildings, district energy networks, as well as for individual technologies such as smart heat pumps, LEDs, and personal environmental control systems.

Develop safety codes for installers (e.g. for energy storage systems and heat pumps).

Define standards to ensure durability, easy maintenance, end-of-life management and circularity (particularly relevant for insulation, heat pumps, PVs, and district heating and cooling systems).

Promote standard, open, common and shared communication protocols to boost interoperability and ease energy system management.

Create the market conditions for clean and efficient buildings technologies

Bans, targets and flexibility market mechanisms

Phase out fossil fuels in buildings and district heating and introduce renewables energy targets in buildings (e.g. ban installation of new fossil fuel boilers, develop plans for fossil fuel switch for the next 15-20 years).

Facilitate flexibility market mechanisms (i.e. flexible pricing) for better deployment of smart controls and energy storage, needed to balance between variable production and demand.

Facilitate integration of smart meters and digital communication between devices and the grid to optimise the operation of buildings technologies to reduce the stress on the electricity grid.

Planning instruments

Integrated and holistic approach to local design and planning

Local planning

Comprehensively integrate clean technologies (solar thermal/photovoltaic/passive, heat pumps, district energy, EVs etc.) into regular planning practices.

Develop tools to combine energy efficiency, low-emissions technologies and flexibility measures into buildings and district level renovation schemes by applying life-cycle energy-cost metrics.

Enforce (geo-referenced) data collection campaigns to allow evidence-based decision making and define protocols to enable data harvesting and processing for assessing buildings’ energy and emissions performance.

Make the building environment part of energy infrastructure planning

Integrated energy and infrastructure planning

Develop plans to integrate by default infrastructure, storage and renewables operation potential. Identify the potential for DHC/rooftops/public spaces to integrate renewable and waste heat to create clear and certain signals for investment.

Create value for the role of district energy networks, storage and control systems for balancing of electricity.

Coordinate electricity grid upgrade and expansion with storage and distributed renewables installations in bottleneck locations and in buildings, as well as deployment of heat pumps in buildings and district heating networks.

Ensure long-run planning certainty for energy infrastructure (e.g. extension of district heating network, decommissioning of gas grid) and variable renewables which evolves hand in hand with clean buildings energy technology by coordinating decarbonisation targets with climate pledges. 

Establish and monitor clean energy technology development and deployment roadmaps.

Economic and financial instruments

Accelerating technology deployment

Design financial incentives

Make clean energy the most cost-efficient solution from a life-cycle perspective (tax shifts, CO2 fees, subsidies, etc.)

Reduce consumers’ upfront costs linked to purchase incentives on technology and materials needed to meet ZCRB standards.

Include clean energy technologies for heating and cooling, storage and smart meters installation as part of renovation schemes.

Promote domestic start-ups for locally manufacturing clean energy technologies (e.g. PV, LED, heat pumps).

Avoid retroactive changes to already granted subsidies in clean energy technologies.

Enable innovative business models

Support new business models

Allow joint contracts with electricity retailers to accelerate clean technology deployment and allow in general utilities to propose clean technology-based services.

Allow targeted grid transportation costs with a local transportation cost for PV owners and flexibility providers.

Enable cross-selling of distributed renewable production and real-time auctions or offers between producers and buyers.

Support circular economy through high-efficiency clean technologies leasing from utilities rather than owned by the end user, in particular for low-income household segments.

Affordability for low-income/vulnerable inhabitants

Target subsidies for energy renovations and fossil free projects, energy-efficient heating and cooling for low-income inhabitants (i.e. using the income from ETS and taxes).

Deploy instruments (loans, ease access to funds) allowing the design of a whole-building approach to deliver affordable housing.

Use energy-cost savings for repaying buildings energy efficiency investments (e.g. in case of tenants or those with cash flow constraints).

Education and training


End-user awareness and acceptance

Awareness campaigns and demonstrations

Implement public education campaigns to highlight the wider benefits (health, environmental, social) of ZCRB, supporting implementation and stringency of codes.

Provide evidence using demonstration cases in target areas (e.g. for building and district renovation).

Incentivise local energy desks, home reports and information platforms to inform and support end-users on clean energy technology opportunities (HP, PV, LED, behaviour changes).

Capacity building

Capacity building for all stakeholders

Develop training and upskilling packages to build/upgrade ZCRBs (new and renovated).

Promote training, qualifications and certification codes of professional practice for stakeholders along relevant supply chains (notably designers, builders and installers).

Establish dedicated “one-stop shops” (e.g. for heat pumps, PV, ES) where a group of experts is centrally located and manages the design, installation and maintenance of technologies.

Set up knowledge sharing programmes, e.g. “twinning” cities (e.g. district heating, renovation).

The IEA Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP) on Decarbonisation of Cities and Communities (IEA Cities TCP) supports the transformation of cities’ building stock, energy and mobility supply into CO2-neutral systems while simultaneously ensuring a high quality of life for, and broad acceptance by, their citizens. 

The IEA Cities TCP aims to provide:

  1. scientific and evidence-based information, tools, and recommendations to support urban decarbonisation efforts,

  2. an international forum and communication channel for researchers and city experts with a strong focus on:
  • innovation-related projects,
  • urban energy and mobility system transformation,
  • the exchange between TCPs to share innovation in each field and between TCPs and practitioners to share best practices and pool resources.

The IEA Cities TCP entered into force in 2022. The first Executive Committee meeting will take place on September 2022. Forthcoming website.