Monday, August 17, 2009

Interview: Mr. Constant Van Aerschot, Co-Chairman, Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EEB) project of WBCSD

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is a CEO-led, global association of some 200 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development. The Council provides a platform for companies to explore sustainable development, share knowledge, experiences and best practices, and to advocate business positions on these issues in a variety of forums, working with governments, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations.
Members are drawn from more than 35 countries and 20 major industrial sectors. The Council also benefits from a global network of about 57 national and regional business councils and regional partners.
The $15 million four-year Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EEB) project of WBCSD is the leading industry-only group that envisions a world where buildings consume zero net energy. The project is chaired jointly by Lafarge and United Technologies Corporation and has 12 other members.
On a recent visit to Seoul, Mr. Constant Van Aerschot, co-chairman of the project, who is also Director, Construction Trends, Lafarge gave me a few insights into the latest report that has been issued by the Council. The following are excerpts from the interview.

Saving energy is the lowest cost way to cut greenhouse gases. Much building energy is wasted because of poor design, inadequate technology and inappropriate behaviors. Businesses need to apply expertise and finance to develop and promote new approaches to energy efficiency, but transformation will not be achieved through the market alone.
Building professionals, owners and users do not grasp the urgency and remain unmotivated to act. Government action is necessary to improve the transparency of energy consumption in buildings and to stimulate the transformation of business models to quickly change energy consumption throughout the building sector – in every country, in existing buildings as well as new ones and in residential as well as commercial property.
All building sector stakeholders need to adopt a sense of urgency and a new mindset in which building energy is a top priority. Businesses will only succeed if they align with a sector transformation, adopting disruptive technologies and business models. Policy-makers need to introduce strong regulatory frameworks that support the market transformation.
New modeling by the WBCSD shows how energy use in buildings can be cut by 60 percent by 2050 - essential to meeting global climate change targets - but this will require immediate action to transform the building sector.
Buildings worldwide account for a surprisingly high 40% of global energy consumption, and the resulting carbon footprint, significantly exceeding those of all transportation combined. Large and attractive opportunities exist to reduce buildings’ energy use at lower costs and higher returns than other sectors. These reductions are fundamental to support achieving the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) target of a 77% reduction in the planet’s carbon footprint against the 2050 baseline to reach stabilized CO2 levels called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
At the same time, substantial investments will be required to achieve this target. These will require the combination of actions called for in this report, including building energy codes, investment subsidies, labeling and reporting mechanisms, increased and trained workforce capacity, and evolving energy-efficiency designs and technologies. All are intended to raise energy awareness globally and influence consumer and investor behavior and choice.
The study’s recommendations are based on a unique data inventory of the building stock in six of the world’s largest economic regions (Brazil, China, EU, India, Japan and USA) accounting together for 70% of the world’s GDP, and divided between residential and commercial and existing and new building types. Financially driven behaviors against energy-efficiency technologies were modeled to show costs and savings under multiple scenarios. This degree of data and sophistication has never been achieved before.
EEB modeling shows that increasing the price of energy or carbon only slightly increases the implementation of energy efficiency in buildings. At today’s energy prices, carbon footprint reductions would only increase from 52% to 55% with an incremental carbon cost of $ 40/ton.
“We value human life to an extraordinary degree and have put in place building life safety codes and inspection mechanisms over a century or more. The experience in the United States has been that these add 5% to building costs, and we should think comparably about building energy codes and related mechanisms worldwide.
Strong barriers exist in the building sector. Removing them will reduce climate policy costs overall and will be particularly important in alleviating the impact on consumers.
EEB has considered high-level scenarios but has taken a bottom-up, market-driven approach to understanding the barriers to lower energy use, based on the most detailed view ever of the current state of energy demand in the building sector. The project developed a unique computer model that simulates decisions about energy investments in a specific building subsector to identify the likely mix of design and construction options under alternative policy packages.
To achieve an energy-efficient world, governments, businesses and individuals must transform the building sector through a multitude of actions, which include increasing energy awareness globally, he said.
The study and analysis modeled three scenarios for the world’s response to the climate challenge in buildings:
• Complacency and inaction leading to a failure to tackle climate change
• Inadequate action resulting in only incremental improvements in energy efficiency and a substantial failure to curb climate impacts
• Coordinated, intensive action that transforms the building sector and contributes proportionately to solving climate change.
The third scenario is understandably the only option that can result in the energy and carbon footprint reductions needed. A mix of measures tailored to specific geographies and building subsectors, including increased energy awareness globally, is required for a complete solution. Additional approaches include building energy codes, labeling and reporting mechanisms, appropriate energy prices and carbon costs, investment subsidies, increased and trained workforce capacity, and evolving energy-efficient designs and technologies that use passive and active approaches.