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Published on April 21st, 2014 | by James Ayre


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

April 21st, 2014 by  

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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About the Author

'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. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • No way

    How on earth would Norway grow to 7 million people. They don’t make enough babies and they don’t let many immigrants or refugees in. 🙂 The passive standard is efficient and saves more energy than used in isolation materials and work but the most important question is about the air quality. Many times do the more efficient houses come with increased allergies. Proper ventilation is one of the keys to passive houses making it big but so far nor all companies care/have the knowledge/makes the effort.

    • Rick Kargaard

      Norway is a cold country. A heat recovery ventilator is not new technology, and has at least a 70% efficiency. The cost is less than a thousand before installation labor. The one I have in my house works very well and can be controlled automatically or manually.

    • Aaron

      Wasn’t the Passivhaus standard initially created as an attempt to accommodate people with severe allergy problems? It stands to reason that a super airtight home that has good filtration and energy recovery would be preferable to one leaking outside air. Agreed that proper execution is key and without it you could exacerbate the problem you’re trying to solve.

  • anderlan

    If I had a dollar for every study that says that better building codes will pay for themselves across the economy 10 times over 20 years AND save God knows how much over the years after that by being careful about our environment and preserving resources for the long term, I’d be rich.

    I’m looking for a Limbaugh ditto-head or Glenn Beckian to slap…you people are just fighting for developer bosses, not their workers, not their customers, not real capitalism, not society. Stop the stupid.

    • Rick Kargaard

      Codes are less important than education. Energy conservation saves money. Well built houses have lower utility bills and some designs can eliminate energy costs almost entirely. Since a good house should be usable for about 200 years that adds up to a lot of savings, both to the homeowner and the environment

      • anderlan

        Education is important if it leads to support for no-brainer better codes.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I disagree.

        Lots of people know the right thing to do but don’t.

        Building codes that are designed to produce efficient buildings produce efficient buildings. (If they are enforced.)

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