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Energy Security Code of Conduct

Before we can solve the world's energy crisis, the industry must address the disorganized state of worldwide standards.

11/2006

By Morgan Bazilian

The headquarters building of Swiss Re attracted huge interest, both negative and positive, from all over the world when it appeared on the London skyline in 2004. Foster and Partners, the building’s architects, describe it as London’s first ecological tall building rooted in a radical approach, technically, architecturally, socially, and spatially. The shape and design of the 41-story building, they say, reduce the tower’s reliance on air-conditioning. Due to this and other sustainable features, the tower is expected to use less than half the energy typically consumed by air-conditioned office towers.

Photo courtesy Nigel Young/Foster and partners
(top) Recently put up for sale, Swiss Re’s energy efficient London headquarters building is affectionately called the“gherkin” by locals. (bottom) While London benefits from strict enforcement of energy codes, such as in the Swiss Re building, cities like Shanghai (far right) have enjoyed explosive growth unbound by energy performance requirements.
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It is hoped the tower will live up to the expectations of its designers, but for the moment there is no evidence of this because Swiss Re’s press office does not release energy consumption data. Hopefully, this situation will change in early 2007, when the European Union’s Energy Performance in Buildings Directive introduces new public information requirements relating to the energy performance of larger buildings.

There are enormous gaps in building energy data throughout the world, with correspondingly large disparities in effective energy saving techniques and policy. Performance measurement and improvement are, as a result, difficult to get a grip on. There is nowhere for people to go to find the answer to which buildings work and which don’t, explains Adrian Leaman, of the UK’s Usable Buildings Trust, an organization that promotes building performance analysis to building owners and architects.

While many architects design buildings with sustainable characteristics, data proving the effectiveness of the design are usually absent once the buildings open. Hence, flaws that may occur during construction are missed. Also, calculations of prospective energy use are not standardized, so claims of savings cannot be compared rigorously, which is one reason why Leaman, as well as numerous other advocates, have argued for the buildings’ actual operational ratings to be used as a basis for policy rather than the information available during design and construction.

A recent global survey of building energy codes found that the majority were ineffective because of limited or nonexistent enforcement. The basic problem is that it is extremely difficult to garner high-level political support from the range of agencies needed to drive the monitoring and enforcement of building energy codes and standards, says Peter duPont, board chair of the Inter-national Institute for Energy Conservation, a nonprofit group that encourages the adoption of energy-efficient policies throughout the world.

Data proving the effectiveness of design are usually absent once the buildings open.

Buildings consume about one third of energy worldwide according to data from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A 2005 study for the European Insulation Manufacturers Association found a global building energy consumption savings potential of 50 percent, meaning these strategies could reduce total global energy consumption by 17 percent.

Buildings’ energy consumption is increasing at a high rate worldwide mainly due to the improvement in living standards in developing countries. For instance, energy consumption in north African, Middle Eastern, and Chinese commercial buildings has grown by 9 percent or more per year over the last 30 years, and private homes show similar trends. Where there’s quick growth in the number of buildings, it makes sense to have strict building codes and ensure that architects go beyond them, says Sylvia Rezessy, an energy efficiency expert at the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partner-ship. REEEP is an international public-private partnership that structures policy initiatives for clean energy markets and facilitates financing for sustainable energy projects.

New suburbs and other communities in developing countries offer the opportunity to act swiftly while buildings are new. In such countries, the potential power of building regulations and voluntary codes is all the greater. Yet even in some of the most mature economies in the world, policies are not fully developed. The UK, for instance, introduced its first requirement relating to energy efficiency in new buildings in 1985.

The regulation has been revised twice in the last four years so that, if fully enforced, it should cut carbon dioxide emissions from new buildings by an additional 40 percent. Even so, this will not affect the vast majority of houses, offices, and other commercial buildings because so much of the UK’s building stock is 50 or more years old.

China has the largest construction volume in the world, with more than 20 billion square feet of new buildings completed each year in urban and rural areas, of which more than 80 percent are categorized as high-energy buildings. At the moment, the energy consumption per floor space is at least two to three times higher in China than in developed countries, while building energy consumption accounts for 27.5 percent of overall energy consumption. Although China is developing various energy efficiency codes for new buildings, the implementation has been problematic.

In an industry often with an eye only for rapid economic returns, financial arguments are persuasive and lead to a far greater likelihood of higher building code compliance, once codes are formally adopted. Even if the enforcement of standards takes some time to put in place, at least the data generated by new standards worldwide will reveal the scale of the problem and thereby generate further action.

Morgan Bazilian is currently serving as department head of energy policy development at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the national energy agency. He also maintains an adjunct position at the Electricity Research Centre at University College Dublin. He holds a Ph.D. in energy studies and has been a Fulbright fellow. He is currently the chair of the Programme Board of REEEP.

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This article appeared in the November 2006 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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