Tuesday, 24 July 2012

UK Best in energy efficiency - apparently - Japanese buildings lag behind

The UK has Beaten the Germans, Italians and Japanese, and is ahead of the USA and Brazil, and well ahead of the Canadians and Russians, according to the US ACEEE,  the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. France, Australia, the EU  and China come in the middle of the pack, which consists of the twelve biggest economies in the world. I will leave the strange fact that it includes the EU as well as four of its constituent countries, but does not include California, part of the US, that would be the world's 8th biggest economy, were it a separate state. California would probably do much better than the US as a whole, just as the UK, Germany, Italy and France usually do better than the EU as a whole.

I found out about if from proudgreenhome, who have a more succinct take on it than the original 100 page pdf, although you really have to read that to find what's going on.

The ratings are worked out by looking at four areas each with a different number of possible points: buildings (28), national efforts (25), industry (24) and transport (23). Each area is broken down into different factors with a different weighting.  

The ratings depend on both actual results and policies or frameworks that will presumably lead to results in the future. For example, the UK does better on results than on policies, while Germany does better on policies than results. Both countries do well though.

There are obvious difficulties in comparing these twelve economies fairly. The report demonstrates this by comparing two tables of oil consumption among the twelve economies. One is per capita, in which China come second from the top, with the US and Canada at the bottom, consuming around five times more. The other is per billion dollars of GDP, in which China comes second from the bottom, below the US and Canada, using about twice as much oil to generate each dollar of its GDP. Should we measure the efficiency of an economy by the number of people it supports or the number of dollars it makes? Perhaps the answer would be different depending on whether you're asking in the US or in China.

In energy efficiency of buildings, China does the best, by a long way. Japan comes near the bottom, beating only Brazil, Canada and Russia. 

Energy use of residential buildings gets five points, and of commercial buildings also gets five points. The unit is British thermal units per square foot (a unit that I'm sure they even had to convert into from Britain's data, as well as those more recent parts of the British Empire: Canada and Australia) so once again we could question how efficient the buildings in different countries are, as there are radical differences in average area per dwelling and average area per inhabitant. This is weighted in some way to take account of different climates. I suspect it does not take account of the temperature inside, and how efficient the buildings are at delivering a comfortable temperature.

China gets full points for both. Australia gets full points for residential buildings, but its commercial buildings are not so energy efficient. Japan almost gets full points for residential buildings, but scores badly for commercial buildings, which will surprise nobody who has been into a Japanese shop. Germany scores badly for its residential buildings, but very well for its commercial buildings. 

Energy use makes up 10 of the 28 points. Another three points each are given for residential and commercial building codes. This seems a good idea as codes will presumably determine the efficiency of new building stock. For residential buildings, they looked at insulation in walls and ceilings, window U-factors, shading and solar heat gain coefficients, lighting efficiency requirements, heating and cooling requirements, and air sealing. Many countries scored full marks, Japan lost a point for having no air sealing codes. Japan did get full points for commercial building codes, for which air sealing is not considered.

The report admits that they "did not evaluate the effectiveness, stringency or enforcement of these requirements", which would be a major challenge. At the moment, each score is just a "yes" or "no". The appendix for Japan notes that while compliance is high at 88% among commercial buildings, "at least in the design stage", only 39% of residential buildings comply to building codes. My impression, at least for the house I built, is that there are no mandatory energy efficiency codes, and that the design stage is not faithfully reflected in the building stage. 

The number of standards for appliances gets up to 6 points, and the US gets a full six. Once again, this does not include the level of compliance to these standards, how stringent they are, or the percentage of consumption that these standardised appliances consume, which makes me wonder why such a large score was given.

Building energy labelling gets another 3 points, of which Japan gets only one point as labelling is voluntary. The local electrical shop labels the energy efficiency of each appliance, and presumably at least some people look at that when choosing an appliance, so once again the challenge of comparing these different economies is highlighted. 

To quote the report on the prospects for Japan: "In the longer term, the most important opportunity for energy efficiency for Japan exists in the building sector." I hope somebody over here is reading that. It goes on, "Energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings almost doubled from 1990-2009".

Looking at a map of the twelve economies, it looks like the main factor in the efficiency of the economy is the area of the country, with the only country seriously out of step being Brazil, so they may just have found an elaborate way of showing that the UK is smaller than Japan, and Russia is bigger than the US.

The report is a good effort that should raise awareness of energy efficiency, and as they frequently note it is a first effort that will be refined and built upon. Look forward to next year's!