China needs a Zero Energy Building program. That’s urgent. It’s a critical area to tackle for climate change mitigation and to minimize environmental problems. It’s important for China and the world.
Though the emissions coming from the energy consumption of Chinese buildings falls short from the emissions coming from the industry sector, without an ambitious policy the situation will reverse in the near future.
We should not forget that buildings consume more energy than the transportation sector or the industry in many parts of the world (North America, Europe…). And if the cities that are being developed in China keep on using traditional construction standards, it will be impossible to reduce energy consumption and to stop climate change.
China must follow the Zero Energy Buildings policy that is being planned in the European Union and California: making new buildings energy zero from 2020 on…
Fortunately, that’s not a distant green dream. China is progressing in sustainable construction.
The building sector in China
The building sector is growing at amazing rates in China. China is building about 1.8 billion m² per year. In other words: China alone is building more than 1/3 of all the new buildings in the world!
That’s several million buildings entering the real estate market every year. And these buildings – mostly associated to a burgeoning middle class – are requiring bigger and bigger amounts of natural gas and electricity, which will be unsustainable without a changing building standards.
Chinese has well-known environmental problems: severe droughts, devastating floods, poor-air quality in cities… Many rural villages and mega-cities such as Guangdong, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Hong Kong are at high risk in case of a significant increase in the sea levels.
That’s why is so important to control and reverse the trends involving the consumption of energy by Chinese buildings.
Chinese zero energy buildings
China hasn’t exactly a Zero Energy Building program. But there are a few novelties in the construction sector. Green buildings were unheard 5 years ago, but that’s not the case now.
The Chinese authorities have introduced new construction standards (akin to LEED standards). At national level, they have required 5 provinces and 8 cities to include green building standards in their regional 12th Five-Year Plans. And they are subsidizing and providing tax breaks to developers that comply with the new standards.
But it is not just the provinces and cities mentioned in the latest 5-Year program that are introducing some few green building practices. There are other cities with new energy-efficiency standards. Many cities have their own plans for green buildings, eco-cities and sustainable construction, in accordance with the framework adopted at a central level.
Although limited in their numbers, Chinese green building projects are not anymore an absolute novelty, following the goal of the latest 5-Year plan: building 1 billion m² of low-energy buildings by 2015 – nearly 20% of the total floor space constructed during that period.
The growth is especially high (60% annual growth rate) in public buildings, and in the eastern coastal cities, but the overall growth rate is significant.
ZEB Chinese programs
As mentioned earlier the Chinese authorities have not yet adopted a real Zero Energy Building program. But the green building programs that are being implemented do not differ much from the ZEB programs.
And China has the resources and means to implement them. ZEB programs do not require any technological breakthrough, or imported know-how.
The Chinese construction sector is dominated by Chinese state-owned enterprises able to train the industry’s workforce and professionals. They can use the same technical tools for designers and builders that are being using in California or in the European Union, in ZEB projects.
China has resources and conditions has unique conditions, scarce in other parts of the world: a huge new construction market (hence the enormous economies of scale and the much lower prices), abundance of funding, huge supply chains able to provide high-performance windows, cheap solar thermal and photovoltaic panels (including organic PV cells for exterior walls) and so on…
The main difficulties hampering ZEB projects are organizational, logistical and financial. And if there is a country capable of being successful in these areas, China is the one.
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