Incentive schemes in Brussels

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Incentive schemes in Brussels

“Exemplary Buildings” (BatEx) Program

The “Exemplary Buildings” program (Bâtiments Exemplaires, or BatEx) is the main financial incentive instrument of the Brussels regional authorities to encourage demand for very high energy efficient construction. Since 2007, the region has organized five annual calls for proposals (with the exeption of 2010), disbursing € 5 million per year. By September 2012, 44 projects had been completed, representing 88.000 m2, and 44 projects were under construction, representing 99.000 m2. 15 projects have been rejected. During the fifth call for proposals in 2012, the regional authorities plan on disbursing € 18 million in premiums, which correspond to an investment of € 500 million of the construction sector. (1) The following paragraphs will outline the origins, development, and particulars of the BatEx program.

In 2006-2007, there were major climate disasters, such as hurricane Katrina, which sparked public awareness initiatives. In this context, the Brussels-Capital Region government decided to push for even further development of the local market. The effort was specifically targeted to younger professionals from the construction sector.

The change of government in 2009 was a real opportunity to launch the BatEx project. Brussels authorities worked very hard on fostering demand by designing a proper program, and providing adequate training to architects and other construction specialists. (2)

The exemplary building concept is not Brussels-born. It is a result of successful networking and policy exchange among regional authorities across the European Union. In 2006, Grégoire Clerfayt, manager of Energy, Air, Climate, Sustainable Construction and Economy at Brussels-Capital, recalls participating in in the IMAGINE initiative of Energy Cities. There, an official from the Franche-Comté region introduced Clerfayt to the principle of calls for proposals in the sustainable building sector. Clerfayt liked the concept of promoting the passive standard by an open competition. The idea was also embraced by Evelyne Huytebroeck, Minister of the Environment of the Brussels-Capital Region, who has subsequently become one of the most important political activists for energy efficient construction. Thus, in 2007 the Passive Buildings idea started to take shape in Brussels, but not on such a high technical level as in Germany. This approach was good, because had Brussels applied the German model literally, it would not have worked. Thus, as a result of the “Brusselization” of an idea borrowed from Germany, the BatEx program emerged. (3)

The long-term objective of the BatEx program is twofold. On the one hand, Brussels-Capital wished to stimulate the supply for eco-construction (that is, to push the building sector towards producing more energy-efficient buildings). On the other hand, the authorities also aimed to increase the market demand. The short-term objective was to reach an initial critical mass of energy efficient buildings, which would be easily replicable and serve as an example for the future. To achieve these goals, Brussels-Capital works simultaneously on three fronts, as follows: (4)

  • Financial assistance: providing funds for new construction and retrofit in line with the passive standard;
  • Technical assistance: expert help for organizations involved in building or refurbishing passive houses;
  • Increased visibility: raising the public profile of passive building owners and their designers.

At the time of launching the first BatEx call for proposals in 2007, the authorities had no clear idea of how the market would respond. Hence, the first edition of the calls for proposals served to test the capacity of the market. The intent was to avoid experimental architecture: the proposals had to be simple, efficient and above all affordable. No minimum performance standard was set in the first call for proposals – only a cap, and indicative targets. The authorities wanted to see what the market could do, and compare the results. (5)

Since 2007, Brussels-Capital has organized four annual calls for proposals (one per year, except in 2010). (6) So far, 294 candidates have submitted proposals, and 192 have been approved. Financed projects cover 470,000 m2 of construction or renovations, of which 250,000 m2 are fully passive. (7)

Each year, the quality of BatEx applications has improved, and the goals have become more ambitious. For instance, while only 21% of the laureates in 2007 and 2008 complied with the passive standard, in 2009 63% of BatEx winners were fully “passive.” (8) Upon completion of each edition of the calls for proposals, the technical requirements were reviewed, improved, and updated for the next one. (9) This way, the lessons learned have been systematized, and used to constantly urge BatEx laureates to carry out superior performance projects.

The fifth (and most recent) call for proposals closed on 28 June 2012. 49 applications were received, (10) 28 of which were for new buildings, and 21 for retrofit. As for the types of buildings, 13 applications were for residential housing, (3,181 m2), 17 applications were for collective housing (59,660 m2), 6 applications were for the tertiary sector (88,349 m2), and 13 applications were for other housing with collective purposes (schools, childcare centres, senior homes, etc.) (11)

To be eligible for BatEx funds, projects must be located within the Brussels-Capital region, and comprise new buildings, retrofit, or a combination of the two. Furthermore, the buildings must have one of the following uses: (12)

  • Housing: house, apartment, collective housing, or other;
  • Teaching facilities (schools, preschools, childcare centres, etc.);
  • Offices;
  • Health facilities;
  • Hotels;
  • Seminar and cultural facilities;
  • Sports facilities;
  • Exhibition halls with systems for regulating the interior climate;
  • Covered swimming pools.

To be approved, a proposal must adhere to four specific criteria:

  • All new construction and renovation must be informed by passive standard guidelines (it must strive to be a zero-emission building);
  • The project must prioritize the use of eco-friendly construction materials, and to consider natural cycles and biodiversity;
  • The project must demonstrate a high architectural quality, good visibility, and a satisfactory level of integration into existing stock;
  • Rather than a “high tech solution,” the project must be simple and feasible in technical and financial terms, with reasonable payback timelines. (13)

The BatEx project review procedure is as follows:

  • External technical experts review all application files.
  • A jury then evaluates all projects in view of the four eligibility criteria outlined above. The jury may request additional feedback from the technical experts.
  • Successful candidates must sign a contract with Brussels Environment, which outlines commitments and obligations.
  • The subsidies are paid out after the inauguration of the project.
  • During the first 5 years, the winners of BatEx funds are obliged to submit regular energy consumption reports to Brussels Environment Administration. (14)

Approved candidates have 4 years to finish their projects. After construction is over, an inspection follows to evaluate the energy efficiency of the building, and the site is officially labeled an exemplary building. (15) Winners also receive technical assistance and increased public visibility of their initiatives. (16)

The planned duration of the BatEx program is May 2007-December 2014, with a total budget of € 45 million. (17) Approved projects are awarded a subsidy of 100 €/m2, which is divided between the contracting authority (90 €/m2) and the developer (10 €/m2). (18) There is a subsidy cap of € 500,000 and € 100,000 for the contracting authority and the developer, respectively. (19)

So far, BatEx projects amount to € 24 million, invested into 354,000 m2 of new or refurbished passive buildings. (20) By October 2012, there were 52 finished projects, and 44 are under construction. Statistical data shows that by the end of 2010, 65% of BatEx funds had been invested in new construction, and 35% in retrofit. A look at the division of exemplary buildings per sector reveals that the tertiary sector has clearly won the largest amount BatEx funds, outstripping other types of housing:

Types of BatEx Buildings (25)
Surface Shares of BatEx Buildings (26)

The table below illustrates the evolution of passive building in the 2007-2011 period. By 2014, Brussels will have grown from 0 m2 in 2007 to well over 500,000 m2 of passive house construction.

Evolution of Passive Building, 2007-2011 (27)

Interestingly, the most economically disadvantaged municipalities are among the most active in applying for BatEx funding. (21) Statistics show that the BatEx program is better known in low-income neighbourhoods where the residents are usually younger, than in richer and “older” communities. (22) At first glance, this may appear contradictory, not least because energy-efficiency renovations are expensive, and the benefits are not immediate. A significant proportion of end users have little incentive to invest in energy improvements. Most people in Brussels are either renting, or are “need buyers” (that is, buyers for whom purchasing a house comes out cheaper than paying rent, yet they are left with no additional funds for any energy-saving renovations). For these users, renovations may amount to 10% of the housing costs, but the lower energy bills will only come after 7-10 years. Understanding the need to reach these “need buyers” is a key success factor in the Brussels model. (23)

After the success of the first few BatEx calls for proposals, Studies have been launched to see if it is possible to build a passive skyscraper in Brussels. (24)


(1) pg. 17.

(2) Hermans, Thibaud. 2012. Presentation at the PassREg 2nd International Workshop, Brussels (October 5).

(3) Hermans, Thibaud. 2012. Presentation at the PassREg 2nd International Workshop, Brussels (October 5).

(4) pg. 1.

(5) pg. 50-51.


(7) Daoud, Ismaël. 2012. “Brussels goes passive: Adoption of Passivhaus as the Brussels EPB standard in 2015.” Presentation at the PassREg 2nd International Workshop, Brussels (October 5).


(9) pg. 3.

(10) pg. 10.

(11) pg. 53.

(12) pg. 2.

(13) pg. 4.

(14) pg. 1.

(15) pg. 51.

(16) pg. 1.

(17) pg. 1.

(18) pg. 1.

(19) pg. 55.


(21) pg. 8.

(22) pg. 57.


(24) Daoud, Ismaël. 2012. “Brussels goes passive: Adoption of Passivhaus as the Brussels EPB standard in 2015.” Presentation at the PassREg 2nd International Workshop, Brussels (October 5).

(25) Hermans, Thibaut. 2012. “Exemplary Buldings: Sussess Stories From Brussels.” Presentation at the PassREg 2nd International Workshop, Brussels (October 5).

(26) Hermans, Thibaut. 2012. “Exemplary Buldings: Sussess Stories From Brussels.” Presentation at the PassREg 2nd International Workshop, Brussels (October 5).

(27) Hermans, Thibaut. 2012. “Exemplary Buldings: Sussess Stories From Brussels.” Presentation at the PassREg 2nd International Workshop, Brussels (October 5).