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Passive Houses Could Help Norway Significantly Reduce Its Energy Consumption And Carbon Emissions, Research Shows

Norway could significantly reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions simply by ensuring that the Norwegian housing stock is built according to, or upgraded to, a passive standard, according to recent research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

The passive standard is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency, with the goal being to greatly reduce a building’s ecological footprint. The standard results in buildings with extremely low energy use, ones requiring little energy for heating or cooling.

This infrared photo shows heat loss from a normal house on the left, compared to a passive house on the right. Image Credit: Passivhaus Institut

This infrared photo shows heat loss from a normal house on the left, compared to a passive house on the right.
Image Credit: Passivhaus Institut

It’s currently estimated that by the year 2050 Norway’s population will swell to 7 million people (up from the 5 million there now). Even with this growth, though, Norwegian energy consumption at that time could be 75% lower than it is today, if all of the country’s housing stock was made to meet the passive standard. That would cut the country’s carbon emissions by as much as 70%.

“The so-called ‘green power’ we produce could be better used for other things than heating houses. We could use it for electric cars or the metal and oil industry and replace a lot of the fossil fuels we use today. If the UN and we are to reach our climate targets, and show the world that we are serious about this, this is a good place to start,” states researcher Stefan Pauliuk, a postdoc in the Industrial Ecology Programme at NTNU.

The new research, headed by Pauliuk, examines the effect of the potential use of the passive standard on energy consumption and emissions in the Northern European country.

The press release from the NTNU provides more:

The housing sector today represents about one-third of the country’s energy consumption, or about 35 terawatt hours out of a total of 112 terawatt hours. As a result, it is indirectly one of largest contributors to Norway’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Pauliuk calculated different scenarios for the industrial sector, the transport sector and the housing sector to estimate conditions in 2050. With fellow student Karin Sjöstrand and supervisor Professor Daniel Beat Müller, he estimated how much we could save in energy consumption if the Norwegian housing stock was built according to, or upgraded to, a passive standard. A passive house is one that is designed and built to use very little energy for space heating or cooling.

Pauliuk and his colleagues also included variables in their model such as population growth, technical disadvantages, energy needs, different heating systems, different ways of living and greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental influences during, building, demolition and rehabilitation.

“No one has previously published models that include all these variables,” Pauliuk explains.

Pauliuk has estimated how much energy housing in Norway will consume during the next 40 years if Norway does nothing, if we build and renovate houses as is currently done, if the entire housing stock is torn down and reconstructed, if everything is built according to passive standards or renovated to these standards, if the living space per person is reduced, or if everyone uses efficient electrical appliances and water heating.

A combination of the three last measurements gives the best effect, also when you consider what happens during construction and demolition and the estimated increase in the population of about 50%. In this case, the yearly energy consumption of Norway’s housing sector will then be reduced from 34 TWh to around 10 TWH by 2050.

As it stands currently though, not many buildings in Norway are being built to passive standards. And certainly not many older buildings are being upgraded to them. But, as Pauliuk notes, the country is quite rich, and does have the resources to do so.

“Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and housing is the easiest sector to change if we are going to reach the climate targets. It is technically possible and economically profitable. If we can’t do this we have no right to accuse other nations of not contributing,” Pauliuk states.

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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