China’s Coal-Fired Energy is Going Out Those Inefficient Windows

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Once China decides to tackle an issue, it excels. For example, having decided to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from its energy mix, it did so, and in the process, propelled Chinese companies to three of the top five wind turbine manufacturers in the world. From a 78% dependence on coal as recently as 2007, the giant nation is now on its way to 67% dependence by 2015, but it remains behind the US in coal-dependence, which already has reduced its dependence on coal to 46%.

However, this is an extraordinary speed of change considering that the enormous country is actually the manufacturing center of the world, which involves the heavy industry that is at the base of most supply lines for the rest of the world.

But there is one area where China really lags the US. The nation’s building stock has worse energy-efficiency. Their buildings leak energy, mostly through the windows.

And compared with European window glass efficiency, China lags even further behind. Because many US states lack energy efficient building codes, there are fewer incentives for manufacturers here to compete with real energy efficiency. Thus, in the US, the only serious producer of energy efficient windows (Serious Materials) grew in the state with the toughest energy codes, California.

In China, the problem is even worse than spotty codes. Building codes generally are ignored, for lack of building inspectors on the ground. According to a study by Geoffrey Lewis during a Fulbright Scholarship in China, most of the coal powered heat is going out of the window.

But if China decided to figure out how to revamp its incentives to improve manufacturing of more energy-efficient windows, and to make that the standard, there is evidence that it could also reduce its reliance on coal much further. Like Scandinavia, which leads the world in window building efficiency, China has very, very cold winters.

German Passivehaus standards enforce windows that can stand up to that climate with triple pane glass and the engineering around the frames needed to prevent “heat bridges” crossing them. Like Germany, China is a nation of engineers, and companies like Jinan Sunny Machinery Company appear to now be starting to spring up to build windows at the level of energy efficiency needed to reduce energy use.

This should not be hard. And it certainly is cost effective. As this graph shows, retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient is one of the cheapest ways to reduce greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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