Energy innovation and sustainability transitions in China: Building energy efficiency and renewable energy

Abstract: Popular Abstract in English Buildings account for almost 30% of global CO2 emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), buildings can be made 75% more efficient by using better design. Globally, every year about half of all new buildings are built in China. In addition, the current lack of comfort level in indoor environments indicates that a large increase in energy use can be expected in the next decades. This unsustainability is exacerbated by China’s largely coal fueled energy system – in 2013, 60% of China’s final energy came from coal. The Chinese government has made tremendous efforts to address the current environmental crisis in its cities. Most of these strategies are regulatory and focused on technology. There is no doubt that technology is crucial in achieving a sustainable building stock. However, successful technology deployment is only one aspect of transforming the building sector. These technologies are developed, adopted and diffused in a highly complex and constantly changing social environment. Over emphasizing technology as a solution could undermine the potential to realize sustainable goals. The assumption behind this study is that both technology development and institutional and structural change are essential for sustainability transitions in China. In order to unpack the subtle challenges embedded in the transition, this study applies theories derived from existing studies of systems of technological innovation. Three technical areas are key to China’s adoption of more sustainable buildings: passive house design, renewable energy integration in district heating, and zero-energy buildings. This thesis uses these key technologies as a lens to examine more sustainable change in China’s building sector. It suggests that transformation requires a more holistic view – building codes are a key instrument but the overall innovation system and governance context as well as formal and informal institutions are also important. I hope that this study can be a valuable contribution to the literature in the fields of energy transitions and sinology. Most importantly, I hope it can help to understand the omnipresent urban environmental crisis in contemporary China, and how to deal with it.