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Green Buildings Offer Lasting Development Impact

Stephanie Miller's picture

A construction worker finishes sealing glass at a building construction site. Trinn Suwannapha / World Bank

What generates 70 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted from cities like New York, Beijing, or New Delhi? Not long ago, I might have answered “cars.” But the real culprit is buildings – our homes, offices, schools, and hospitals. Many of which use electricity, water, and fuel extremely inefficiently because of the way they were initially designed.

In fact, about 40 percent of the world’s electricity is used to cool, light and ventilate buildings, even though much more efficient technology exists.

The longevity of buildings is why we need to think much more about them at the new construction phase. Decisions about building materials, insulation, and plumbing live on for decades or longer. That’s why IFC, the private sector-focused arm of the World Bank Group, is working to help builders and developers in emerging markets lock in climate-smart choices at the early design stage.

Our new certification tool EDGE, which stands for Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies, was designed specifically for emerging markets, where housing needs are set to grow exponentially as a result of urbanization pressures. It is Internet-based and easy to use, offering developers a range of inexpensive design choices that might otherwise be overlooked in the rush to build.

Buildings certified by EDGE use 20 percent less energy than their peers, offering long-term emissions savings and lower utility bills – a major benefit in affordable housing.

Urban planning and policies can help encourage this shift to low-carbon development on a wide scale. Our colleagues in the World Bank are working at the government level to help city leaders plan for low-carbon growth, track their emissions, and raise their credit ratings to secure the financing to invest in climate-smart, resilient buildings and infrastructure.

Climate change is already raising the cost of development, and only 4 percent of the 500 largest cities in developing countries are considered creditworthy in international finance markets right now. Ensuring that cities have the financing to choose energy-efficient construction will be critical to lowering the urban impact on climate change and growing livable cities for the future.

We see enormous potential for green buildings, and are currently exploring opportunities for the EDGE program in markets such as South Africa, Colombia, India, China, and the Philippines, among others. By encouraging fast-growing cities to make climate-smart choices in their new construction, we can make a real and lasting difference in developing countries.

It is clear to me that building green is both feasible and economical, and can have positive long-term impacts in the emerging markets where we operate.

Photo: Trinn Suwannapha / World Bank

Comments

Buildings are as described an interesting and important focus - as they are major energy users. An increased focus on design is necessary but the focus on ensuring efficient operation during the buildings life must also increase. Based on many years of experience working with measuring performance and optimisation of air-conditioning on all continents I believe that the focus on actual operating efficiency in both existing and new buildings must increase. There is often a saving potential of 20-30% or more in most buildings at low cost which is true in all markets and applications we have experience of. The challenge is “business as usual” where no validation of actual performance during normal operation is done in air-conditioning systems. This has partially been due to the historical lack of cost-effective methods for measuring performance in the field - If the system cools the building - it has been believed to be efficient.
The servicing sector makes money on failures not low energy consumption and equipment owners expect service to include optimisation but pay for lowest cost service contract as they rarely have the technical know-how to appreciate the importance of measuring performance and optimising systems. To focus on energy optimisation is not an alternative to good design but it is a prerequisite to achieve efficiency in both new and existing buildings. Optimisation of air-conditioning is the “low hanging fruit” but it requires a new focus and awareness among the owners that 20-30% of electricity often can be saved at low or no investment (besides the work involved). At the same time it is well known that an efficient system almost by definition is a reliable system with low cost for repairs and long life time expectancy.
As many of the fast growing economies are in hot climate air conditioning loads play a major roll and need special attention. They often consume 40-60% of the electricity in a modern building and cause a major challenge for production capacity as well as supply grids in many countries. Globally 20% of the electricity is estimated to be used in air-conditioning and refrigeration whereas in i.e. India it is estimated to 35%.

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