• English

Improving energy efficiency in the built environment

Buildings consume 70 per cent of generated electrical power in the developed world and are responsible for 40 percent of CO2 emissions. Radical improvement in their energy efficiency is thus crucial to global sustainability and to achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals. However a conceptual transformation in building energy efficiency is required. Until now building energy efficiency is designed and measured by the efficiency of the component parts of the building, and the focus of policy has been incremental component efficiency improvement. Building science suggests that the efficiencies to be gained by component improvements are reaching their physical limits, will come at substantial and escalating cost, and will be difficult to maintain. Therefore a holistic approach to the design, construction, management and recycling  over the entire life cycle of buildings is required.

On 29 September 2016, a session on Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment at the 25th Session of the Committee on Sustainable Energy explored the principles that open a new path to sustainable buildings and a sustainable future. Government representatives, leading building technology companies, architects, scientists and experts from international organizations participated in the discussion. Keynote addresses were given by Peter Halliday, Head of Building Performance and Sustainability, Siemens Building Technologies, and Dr. Neil A. Sharkey and Professor James Freihaut from Penn State University, United States, a leading architectural engineering school. Moderated by the Chair of the UNECE Group of Experts on Energy Efficiency Tim Farrell from the Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency, a panel of distinguished experts included Ulrich Benterbusch, Deputy Director General, Heat and Efficiency in Industry and Households, Federal Ministry for Economy and Energy, Germany, Co-Chairs of the UNECE Joint Task Force on Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings Dr. Burkhard Schulze Darup from Germany and Marko Nokkala from Finland, Rob Bernhardt, CEO, Passive House Canada, and Helge Schramm, Sustainability and LCA Expert, Danfoss.

A new holistic approach to building standards was proposed for consideration by the Committee on Sustainable Energy, a concept of a principles-based standard as guidance for policy makers and for stakeholders in the building delivery chain and over the building life cycle.  Perspectives were provided in leading approaches to the built environment relevant to developed countries and countries with economies in transition. The experts noted that this will be a guidance document that should not be overly prescriptive and is based on voluntary approach. Its implementation will require capacity building and dissemination of information, with data reporting and measurement, verification and evaluation (MV&E) a critical component. To develop a viable standard, collaboration between the scientific and academic community, manufacturers and policy makers is important. A human-centered approach taking into account improvements in quality of life was emphasized. Use of affordable technologies to take into account needs of less prosperous countries was also noted.

The Committee supported the proposal to develop a principles-based energy performance standard in buildings and mandated the Joint Task Force on Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings with the Committee on Housing and Land Management to develop the concept further.