China Pushes for Energy-Efficient Buildings

China Pushes for Energy-Efficient Buildings

As the world's largest construction market, China is home to half of the new buildings built around the globe each year, adding approximately 2 billion square meters of floor space annually. The nation spends up to Xinhua News reports.

The Chinese government considers the adoption of energy-efficient technologies in buildings to be a promising path to ease the expanding energy crisis. The country’s latest five-year plan (200610) calls for energy savings of 50 percent for new buildings nationwide and up to 65 percent for buildings in four large municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing). In early 2006, the government issued a design standard for energy conservation to encourage contractors to use energy-efficient materials and adopt energy-saving technologies for heating, cooling, ventilating, and lighting public buildings.

Yet developers’ enthusiasm for "green” buildings has been dampened by the higher construction cost, which averages 100150 yuan (US$1319) more per square meter than a standard building. Buyers, too, are typically more concerned about location, design, or neighborhood than environmental variables when selecting buildings. But advocates of green building say the upfront costs are often outweighed by the savings that come with greater energy efficiency over the long term. While the buildings typically cost an extra 25 percent initially, the benefits over 20 years can be more than 10 times the original investment, according to the newly released Worldwatch Institute report State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future.

China’s largest buildings currently cover nearly 43 billion square meters of floor space, yet only 4 percent of them have adopted energy-efficiency measures, primarily for heating. The total bill for retrofitting these structures is estimated to be at least 1.5 trillion yuan (US$193 billion), according to Qiu Baoxing, vice minister of the Ministry of Construction. But Qiu also notes that retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient technologies can save China at least 150 million tons of standard coal annually as well as some 600 billion yuan (US$77 billion) in costs, equivalent to the electricity generated by four Three Gorges Dam projects, People’s Daily reported.

The Chinese government began investigating green building as early as the 1980s, but this effort was impeded due to under-developed technology and lack of funding. Today, both the technical and the financial situation have improved greatly, but many uncertainties remain. In particular, China’s self-acclaimed “green building” movement continues to reflect shades of gray, as the label is frequently wrongly or over-used.

Currently as many as 11 so-called green cities and 140 green buildings are under construction in China, but few of them meet international standards for low energy use, recycled water systems, and “intelligent” integrated design and materials. The first building in China to receive the internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification was the eight-story office of the Ministry of Science and Technology in Beijing, completed in 2004. The structure uses 70 percent less energy and 60 percent less water by integrating such features as a highly efficient shell and windows, a roof garden stormwater system, and a combined cool thermal storage system.

As of early 2006, nine other large projects had registered or been pre-certified for LEED. China is also seeking to develop its own national standard to support local green building practices, and hopes to stimulate investment in the industry by encouraging the development of a “green supply chain” of construction parts, materials, and knowledge.

Despite rising interest in green building, however, across much of China developers are increasingly abandoning traditional building practices for more energy-intensive Western styles. The nation has also become a popular destination for the world’s top architects to nestle their fantastic but often highly energy-consumptive masterworks. Shanghai Oriental Art Center, a signature post-modern work by Paul Andreau, has reportedly run short of money to pay its tremendous electricity bill, a problem that might have been averted by integrating energy-efficient technologies into the building’s early design.