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Scenarios of energy efficiency and CO2 emissions reduction potential in the buildings sector in China to year 2050


As China’s rapid urbanization continues and urban dwellers become more affluent, energy use in buildings is expected to grow. To understand how this growth can be slowed, we explore four scenarios for Chinese buildings, ranging from a high-energy-demand scenario with no new energy policies to lowest energy demand under a techno-economic-potential scenario that assumes full deployment of cost-effective efficient and renewable technologies by 2050. We show that, in the high energy demand scenario, building energy demand has an average annual growth rate of about 2.8%, with slower growth rates in the other three scenarios. In all scenarios, CO2 emissions grow slower than energy, with building CO2 peaking around 2045 in the high energy demand scenario, and as early as 2030 in the techno-economic-potential scenario. We show that although various technological solutions, systems and practices can be very effective in minimizing building energy use, rigorous policies are needed to overcome multiple implementation barriers.

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Fig. 1: Residential and commercial building model structure.
Fig. 2: Energy use and emissions results by scenario over time.
Fig. 3: Projected building primary energy use by building type and end-use and by scenario.
Fig. 4: Potential 2050 primary energy savings by technology package for the Chinese buildings sector in the TEP scenario.

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Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work was supported by Energy Foundation through the US Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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Authors and Affiliations



N.Z. led the design of the research, modelling and manuscript preparation. N.K. and W.F. assembled input data. N.K. implemented the model and analysed output data and results. W.F. developed additional waterfall scenarios that were implemented in the model by J.K. M.L. validated modelling results, and prepared the main paper with input from N.Z., N.K., W.F. and J.K. All authors discussed the results and implications and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

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Correspondence to Nan Zhou.

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Supplementary Figures 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–3, Supplementary Notes 1–2 and Supplementary References

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Zhou, N., Khanna, N., Feng, W. et al. Scenarios of energy efficiency and CO2 emissions reduction potential in the buildings sector in China to year 2050. Nat Energy 3, 978–984 (2018).

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