The building sector accounts for about 20% of primary energy consumption in China . While the national government has been updating and improving national standards on energy efficiency in buildings, provincial and city governments have become more and more active in issuing local-level regulations, standards and incentives. Considering the divergence between climate zones and the discrepancy in development between the East Coast and the West of China, no single policy can fit all regions. Thus, some codes are even more stringent than the national one, for example in Tianjin.
This article reviews how local-level regulation and financial incentives in different climate zones in China support energy-efficient buildings.
Local Regulations and Building Codes
Some provinces have issued strict building codes and set goals for reducing GHG emissions or the use of coal. Hebei province published its Evaluation standard for passive low-energy buildings in 2019, which was aimed at public buildings being built or retrofitted. According to the 13th Five-Year Plan for Hebei’s Building Energy Efficiency and Green Building Development, the province aims to save about 15 million tons of standard coal through this policy between 2015 and 2020. The average heating energy consumption per unit area of residential buildings is expected to decrease by 15% compared with 2015, and the energy consumption of public buildings in urban areas by 5%.
Local governments can also use public buildings as demonstration projects that promote energy efficiency. In March 2019, Shandong province decided that public buildings which the government invested in need to be awarded at least two stars in the green building certification system. The stars are given according to the degree to which buildings meet certain control and scoring items. If the total score of green buildings reaches 50 points, 60 points or 80 points, the grade of green buildings will be 1 star, 2 stars or 3 stars, respectively. The old evaluation system is composed of six indexes: land conservation and outdoor environment, energy conservation and utilisation, water conservation and water resource utilisation, material conservation and material resource utilisation, indoor environmental quality and operation management (residential buildings) or comprehensive performance over the whole life cycle (public buildings). In the new National Standard of Green Buildings Assessment 2019, convenience for habitants and innovation are added as new indicators. Hubei province set a target to create one green urban area, two green building demonstration projects, and three high-star green building projects in 2017. The province further decided to promote the large-scale application of distributed solar energy, biomass energy and geothermal energy in buildings, according to the Opinions on Building Energy Efficiency and Green Building Development in Hubei Province 2019.
Shanghai aims to improve efficiency by providing better energy data monitoring and improving the disclosure of existing public buildings. Changning District has established a public building energy consumption monitoring platform and proposed a building energy conservation and emission reduction curve to quantify the implementation costs and energy conservation of different energy-saving technologies.
By the end of 2018, the monitoring of 187 public buildings in Changning District had been completed, covering 95% of the entire district total . Its energy data monitoring platform includes data modules on topics such as building automation systems, the built environment, photovoltaic systems, car charging piles, and demand-side responses. In addition to supporting the government’s management of smart cities, this energy consumption monitoring data provides tools for building owners and energy-saving service companies to explore energy-saving and emission reduction potentials and expand business cooperation. Shanghai also introduced detailed plans in each district to retrofit public buildings. According to its plan, Changning District will renovate 300,000 square metres of existing public buildings in an energy-saving manner, and Pudong New District will renovate a total of 200,000 square metres.
Shanghai Changning District. Source
More than 10 local governments have created their own financial incentives; some are focusing on new buildings. For example, Beijing municipality announced the Green Development Fund for Beijing Economic- Technological Zone in 2019. Accordingly, for new civil buildings which meet the requirement of 2 stars and 3 stars, a 50 yuan/m2 and a 100 yuan/m2 subsidy will be given to the constructor, respectively.
Some incentives also target the retrofitting of old buildings. Henan supports energy-saving renovation projects for existing buildings with a maximum subsidy of 110 yuan/m2. Shanghai Changning District completed energy-saving renovations of 45 existing buildings by the end of 2018. A total of 18 buildings were subsidised by the district government with 27 million yuan.
Since heating in Northern China has huge potential for GHG emission reduction, local governments created a special fund to improve heating efficiency and to promote renewables in the heating system. Jiaozuo municipality in Henan announced the Special Fund Management for Winter Clean Heating (Interim) in 2018, whose purpose is to issue one-off equipment subsidies for residents who switched from coal to electric and gas heating between 2018-2020, with subsidies for gas heating including supporting equipment such as fins. The maximum subsidy was 4,500 yuan per household. Biomass combined heat and power, ground source heat pumps and sewage source heat pumps were subsidised with 40 yuan/square meter, according to the given heating area.
China’s existing building area exceeds 50 billion square metres, with an additional 1.6-2 billion square metres being built on each year. Using the new national standard as a means of evaluation, about 70% of existing buildings are highly energy-consuming. Therefore, retrofitting old buildings remains an important target for most municipalities.
The central government has set a goal for clean heating. The Clean Winter Heating Plan for Northern Area 2017-2021 plans that by 2021, 70% of buildings in the Northern areas will use clean heating, which means using renewables, gas, electricity or more efficient coal to combat air pollution. 150 million tons of bulk coal (including coal for low-efficiency small boilers) will be replaced. The average energy consumption of the heating system will be reduced to less than 15 kg of standard coal per square meter. To support this ambitious goal, municipalities are working in their own regions to replace coal with alternatives.
Shanghai offers an example of how local governments provide better data platforms for improving the behaviour of residents as well as for energy management both by the government and service providers. Some other provinces have also issued policies targeted at improving data disclosure and management, yet exact measures still need to be specified. As the behaviour of residents plays an essential role, the question of how to raise awareness and increase engagement and participation will likely be another focus in the coming years.
 China Building Energy Use 2018. Tsinghua University.