August 7, 2008

Saving CO2

My old friends at Worldchanging report on, and helpfully reproduce the graph from, a McKinsey report on the costs of reducing carbon emissions (so I'm hotlinking on to it below). It's quite an interesting one as we are always being asked by clients and friends what the best way is to save energy in buildings, often with a glint in the questioner's voice that suggests they are rather looking forward to installing some technologically-advanced wizardry that will make them feel 'innovative' and special. And always, we give a fairly unsexy answer that, well, super-insulation and really efficient heating systems will save you more energy than all the mini wind-turbines you could possibly cram on your roof.

This report also suggests this is true on a global scale. The most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions is through insulation. It is actually cost-negative - and the most cost-negative - as it saves money through reducing energy use. More efficient lighting, air conditioning and heating also score very highly - and are cost-negative - compared to many of the technologies that get a higher profile such as wind, or carbon capture. So globally, it is most economic to focus on improving building stock, before building wind farms.

This shouldn't be surprising, as the idea of using less energy first, before finding ways to make it 'sustainably' is common sense. But we still aren't seeing, in developed countries, let alone the less developed, widespread strategies that upgrade the efficiency of the building stock wholescale (existing and new-build). It's just a bit unsexy and means interfering in privately held property, which requires masses of monitoring and bureaucracy. It's also an area where it is more difficult to lever in private capital, unlike contracting a company to build a generating facility where they will be guaranteed a good market for all their product, all the time.

It is also something clearly that needs to be addressed across the globe, and particularly in the cities that are currently growing exponentially with formal and informal new-build, and not just in cold climates but in hot too (insulation keeps heat out as well as in, so can reduce the need for air conditioning). How are Indian or Chinese building regulations on insulation these days? Making buildings better may be cheap, but it is certainly complex to implement.


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