ENERGY WATCH #1 - December 20, 2018
Buildings emissions 2050: triple renovations rate today, avoid unnecessary stress tomorrow
by Arasan Aruliah
Buildings are responsible for 39% of total energy-related global emissions. More action is required from governments, cities and business if the buildings and construction sector is to reach net zero by 2050. Renovations to existing stock are vital but at the current rate of 1% we won’t get there – it needs to triple. Any delay in upping the rate will just increase pressure on the sector down the line. EPW takes a look at what hurdles must be overcome to make it happen.
According to a new report released at COP24 by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, some progress has been made. Their 2018 Global Status Report – Towards a Zero-Emission, Efficient and Resilient Buildings and Construction Sector emphasises that emissions from buildings and construction have peaked, thanks to energy efficiency gains in areas such as heating, lighting and cooking, and with more offices and homes being powered by cleaner forms of energy. Shifts towards energy saving technologies like heat pumps, improved windows and insulation, the use of less energy-intensive materials, and buildings design, are all paying off.
However, the report underlines that the buildings sector – a huge engine of the global economy – still accounts for a significant 39% of total energy-related CO2 emissions and 36% of final energy use. Net zero by 2050 is still a long way away.
The report was written in collaboration with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and UN Environment. Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, warns: “Developments within the sector such as the growing uptake of air conditioners are having a big impact on energy and environmental trends at the global level… If we don’t make buildings more efficient, their rising energy use will impact us all, whether it be through access to affordable energy services, poor air quality or higher energy bills.” In other words, the global growth in buildings and population is outpacing the gains from energy efficiency improvements, meaning final energy demand in buildings has risen by 5% since 2010 (Figure 2).
Efficiency gains across the board, except in space cooling
Energy intensity per unit of floor area is another way of measuring energy efficiency. The data shows that space heating and lighting have improved the most since 2010 (Figure 3). The shift to energy‐efficient technologies, such as light‐emitting diodes (LEDs) and heat pumps in some markets, has played a role in those energy intensity improvements. Building envelope measures have also helped to improve heating and cooling energy intensities per square metre, through improved thermal performance (e.g. material choice) and better building design and orientation. All this has helped overcome growth in population and increases in wealth to achieve important energy savings per floor area in recent years. In fact, only space cooling has grown in energy intensity per unit floor area.
Emissions are levelling off, but that’s not good enough
Buildings sector emissions appear to have stabilised at around 9.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) annually in 2015‐17, or 28% of the global energy‐related CO2 emissions. When energy‐related emissions from buildings construction (i.e. manufacturing of building materials) are included, total buildings‐related CO2 emissions amounted to more than 11 GtCO2 in 2017, or 39% of the global energy‐related emissions. That also remains unchanged from 2016. “This is potentially an indicator that buildings sector emissions have capped, but they are still well below the necessary reductions to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says the report.
Energy efficiency investment in buildings is slowing
More investment is needed. Total energy efficiency spending for buildings increased by 4.1% (2.5% adjusted for inflation) in 2017 to $423bn (Figure 9). That means it slightly outpaced the 3‐4% annual growth rate of the total investment in buildings construction and renovation, but that is still a slowdown when compared to the 6‐11% annual growth rates in energy efficiency spending from 2014 to 2016. And whatever the growth rate, energy efficiency remains a small portion of the overall spending on buildings.
Europe has the tools, we’re just not using them
Net zero by 2050 is a steep hill to climb for the world, and that includes Europe. But the tools to succeed are already available, according to a study commissioned by Eurima, the European Insulation Manufacturers’ Association. The study looks at all the opportunities, including the building envelope (efficient design and insulation of roofs, walls, floor, windows), heating and control systems, and renewable energy heating solutions. Eurima Director General, Jan te Bos, says “solutions that are already commercially available can take us 75% of the way to net zero, if deployed at scale. The remaining 25% can be achieved based on known approaches and technologies, if efforts to scale up and commercialise are made.”
The message is slowly getting through. For new builds, France’s building code requires all new construction to fall under its definition of an nZEB (nearly zero-energy buildings). In Austria, Belgium and Italy, more than 20% of residential new constructions in 2017 were nZEBs. For renovations, Denmark’s renovation rates are between 1.5%–2%, well above the EU average, but still not high enough: the Eurima study concludes that 3% of buildings need to be renovated every year, up from just 1% today, for the EU to reach net zero.
Residential buildings hold the key
A report by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), published in November, identifies residential buildings as one of three areas (the other two are electricity supply, and passenger road transport) the EU should focus on to scale up climate action to meet the Paris targets. “The reductions in these three sectors alone are enough to reduce EU28 total greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52% below 1990 levels in 2030,” says their report. But following the current trend in reducing buildings emissions won’t reduce them to zero. Even following the “best in class” nations, like Denmark, will only get us half way there. The report concludes: “Paris Agreement-compatibility requires the renovation rate of the building sector to increase significantly from the current 1%—ideally to around 5%—with the energy demand per square meter decreasing by between 75% and 100%.”
The policies are being put in place
In the summer of this year the EU amended and strengthened the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD). EuroACE heralded it as a big step forward. EuroACE is the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, with members ranging across the commercial buildings sector. In November they published their “EuroACE Guide to EPBD Implementation” to help decision-makers understand and take action following the new rules.
The detailed guide is specifically targeted at the government officials in the EU Member States and “stakeholders in the whole construction value chain from the owner, through the design teams to the site and to all associations that represent this value chain.“
EuroACE Secretary General Adrian Joyce said: “[The new EPBD] is one of the most important changes that has occurred in the EU buildings sector in the last 15 years. At last, EU legislators have recognised that our biggest problems are not the standards we use for our new buildings but the ones we use to renovate our existing ones. “
In 2005, total energy consumption in the EU was around 1,800 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe). So, by hitting the new EPDB targets alone the EU can reduce overall energy consumption by 360mtoe by 2050. At the same time, given most of the energy used in buildings comes from burning fossil fuels, particularly gas for heating, the EU can reduce its reliance on imported gas by around 60%.
“Just treating the building sector will reduce energy demand in the overall economy by 32% if we achieve our goals,” says Joyce. In fact, this sector is ripe for rapid transition. Joyce concludes: “The Buildings sector is the most readily accessible for achieving dramatic cuts in emissions”.