Simple code changes could decrease Chinese building energy use by 22 per cent.

4 February 2014 — “Realistic improvements to codes” could dramatically reduce China’s building energy use, a study by the US Department of Energy has found.

Scientists from the Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that improvements to codes regulating areas like insulation and lighting could reduce energy use by up to 22 per cent by the end of the century, compared with a no change scenario.

China is the second largest building energy user in the world, and as it develops building energy use is expected to rise, so the results could be large in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

“A 22 per cent cut is a large change in China’s trajectory,” said Meredydd Evans, the PNNL scientist who managed the project. “More energy could be saved with additional standards and policies, but this study shows that a distinct set of codes can have great impact.”

The study, published in Energy Policy, focused on a set of building energy codes, most of which related to the building envelope, including insulation, heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting.

Since China implemented its first building energy codes in the 1980s, the country has expressed a commitment to reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions through improved codes, Ms Evans said. And China’s high compliance rate in this area – achieved through private, third-party inspectors that oversee construction on a routine basis and government oversight – was a strength that would see improved standards translate into good results.

China in 2012 had already implemented a first-step voluntary code in rural buildings, which housed about half of China’s population, and often lacked proper insulation, air-tightness and energy-efficient cooking methods.

Developed countries used more energy for buildings than developing ones, and China’s transition to a developed nation would be no exception, Ms Evans said. The study, she said, showed that changes to building codes could slow energy requirements, and that they did not need to be radical to make a difference.

“China won’t find one golden policy that solves its energy and pollution problems,” said Sha Yu, lead scientist and principal author of the study. “They need policies that are comprehensive and feasible.”