BRUSSELS Fifteen million European buildings should have eco-friendly renovations over the next decade to cut energy use, with builders and architects re-educated to do the lucrative job, a draft EU report says.
The European Union should also make mandatory its goal of cutting energy use by a fifth over the next decade, creating about 2 million new jobs, says a draft of the EU's "energy efficiency action plan" obtained by Reuters.
The proposal for a binding energy efficiency target is expected to spark a fierce political battle.
If it goes through unchallenged, it will pour billions in EU funds into the hands of property developers while cutting business for traditional energy suppliers by about 11 percent.
"Many energy efficiency improvements pay for themselves in energy savings, make our industry more competitive and our citizens richer," said the report by the European Union's executive, the European Commission.
The strategy has two goals -- to help the European Union cut carbon dioxide emissions in the fight against climate change, and to reduce the tens of billions of euros channeled overseas each year for oil and gas imports.
"The Commission will launch a European Building Initiative, supported by the European Investment Bank ... that will aim at stimulating the major renovation of 15 million buildings by 2020," said the report.
If properly implemented, the initiative would generate energy savings equivalent to 37 million tonnes of oil -- worth around $19.7 billion at today's prices.
Some utilities, such as Britain's Centrica, are already overhauling the traditional business model to keep revenues flowing even as demand for gas levels off.
"Delivering a revolution in energy efficiency for buildings is absolutely crucial," said a Centrica spokesman. "That means doing the obvious things like better insulation, but in future also utilizing technologies such as renewable heat and microgeneration."
The initiative could also create an extra 300,000 direct jobs a year and around 1.1 million indirect jobs, particularly for builders, roofers, glaziers and other small businesses.
"Investing in energy efficiency in buildings can play a key role in the EU's economic recovery," said the report. "A mandatory low energy building course for the building workforce, particularly for architects, should therefore be introduced."
The report also weighs the possibility of forcing homeowners to renovate the least eco-efficient buildings before putting them up for sale, but it also notes that this would impinge on the basic freedoms of citizens.
The proposal will also throw up difficult issues, such as how to measure national improvements in energy efficiency and whether all EU countries should take on equal targets, said a Commission official.
(Editing by James Jukwey)