Sustainable Buildings

December 31, 2015


Principal Investigators
MIT: L.Glicksman, Q.Chen, L.Norford, J.Dorsey, A.Scott, J.Fernandez
ETH: K.Daniels, A.Moser
UT: S.Murakami
Chalmers: C.Hagentoft
EPFL: J.Gay, P.Rittmeyer
Tsinghua Univ. (China): Y.Jiang, B.Yuan, Y.Zhao, Y.X.Zhu

It is projected that future buildings will consume about one-third of the total energy in China. During the past decade, rapid economic growth in China has significantly increased the standard of living for the nation’s 1.3 billion inhabitants. Demand for more living space and greater comfort means that new construction is booming, air conditioners abound, demand for heating is rising, and more people are buying electric fans, washing machines, and refrigerators. Energy demand is certain to increase – a prospect that raises serious concern. In 1999, China consumed about 8% of the total energy used in the world, more than any nation except the United States. By 2020, China’s total energy consumption could double, and – if China follows the historic trends of the Western world – residential and commercial building consumption could rise from its current small fraction to fully a third of the nation’s total energy use. If coal continues to be the fuel of choice, China’s energy use would substantially raise worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide.

Decisions made now in China’s residential sector will clearly have a major impact on worldwide sustainability for decades to come. Recognizing the importance of “locking in” good practices for the long term, teams from the members of the Alliance for Global Sustainability have been working with Chinese collaborators to develop new sustainable buildings. Over the past five years, they have been preparing conceptual designs and performing parallel technology studies for large-scale residential demonstration projects in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

The largest obstacle to the improvement in building energy effectiveness is the lack of means to encourage widespread adoption of efficient measures.

The project aims identify new technologies and applications of existing technologies that will significantly increase the efficiency of new and renovated Chinese buildings. The focus is on the design, prototype testing, and evaluation of several residential projects. It is also essential that these approaches toward energy efficiency appeal to Chinese buildings and consumers and to convince them of the inherent advantages of sustainable strategies.

Specific goals include minimizing solar gains in the summer, improving air quality and ventilation, and reducing energy consumption of buildings. Equally important is the design of residential communities that are sustainable on the urban and social scale.

The project is currently working with Chinese policymakers to develop “green guidelines” and formulating simple computer-based tools that Chinese buildings can use to compare the energy efficiency of design options.

Research has been done in several areas: energy, ventilation, noise and shading in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The technical findings from these studies have been incorporated into design and policy recommendations.

In working with the Chinese, the researchers have made a troubling observation: developers are abandoning traditional Chinese practices and relying on energy-intensive Western methods instead. In the past, Chinese residents typically lived in low buildings with communal green spaces. Designs were simple, were in harmony with nature, and made effective use of natural ventilation and solar heating. In contrast, the new buildings being put up by today’s commercial firms are generally Western style high-rise structures that isolate residents from one another and from outdoor spaces and depend on energy-consuming mechanical devices for heating and cooling.

The Sustainable Urban Housing in China Group has participated in six projects in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. The research has produced 43 separate publications, theses and papers addressing different areas of the problem of sustainable housing. Computational and technical methodologies have been developed to assess the impact of different design options and currently, the group is engaged in developing a guideline for sustainable indices, which can be used by Chinese officials to evaluate ‘building sustainability’.

More Information
MIT China Buildings

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