IEA report shows how to achieve dramatic energy savings in the buildings sector by 2050

June 10, 2011 | 00:00

IEA report shows how to achieve dramatic energy savings in the buildings sector by 2050

A new report from the International Energy Agency shows how heating and cooling technologies that are energy-efficient and that emit little or no carbon dioxide can dramatically reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions within residential, commercial and public buildings, a sector that currently accounts for around one-third of total final energy consumption.

The IEA Technology Roadmap Energy-efficient Buildings: Heating and Cooling Equipment shows how technologies such as solar thermal, heat pumps, thermal energy storage, and combined heat and power for buildings have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 2 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2050 - around a quarter of today's emissions from buildings - and save 710 million tonnes oil equivalent (Mtoe) of energy by 2050. Much of the potential energy savings identified in the report could be achieved rapidly, both because the required technologies are available today and because heating and cooling equipment is typically replaced between 7 and 30 years - much more rapidly than the buildings themselves, which may last 30 to 100 years or more.

"Energy efficiency and CO2-free technologies for heating and cooling in buildings offer many low-cost options for reducing energy consumption, consumers' energy bills and CO2 emissions in buildings, with technologies that are available today. Given that space heating and cooling and hot water production consume perhaps half of all energy consumed in buildings today, the savings potential is very large," Bo Diczfalusy, the IEA's Director of Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology, said at the launch of the report.

The IEA prepared the roadmap in consultation with representatives of government, industry, academia and non-governmental organizations. The document provides an overview of the current status of different mature, commercially available heating and cooling equipment, as well as emerging technologies. It charts a course for expanding the deployment of these technologies to 2050 with the ambitious goal of completely transforming the market for heating and cooling in buildings.

This report is the latest in the IEA's series of technology roadmaps, which aim to guide governments and industry on the actions and milestones needed to achieve the potential for a full range of clean energy technologies.

Strong policy action is required

The report recommends urgent action to overcome widespread market barriers to the deployment of heating and cooling equipment that is energy-efficient and emits less or even no CO2. This is essential if the building stock is to begin consuming less energy and emitting less CO2. Government policies must be both "broad" enough to address specific barriers (for instance, by raising awareness on the part of workers who install building equipment) and "deep" enough to reach all of the stakeholders in the fragmented building sector (for instance, by aligning the incentives for building developers with future owners).

"Governments need to create the economic conditions that will enable heating and cooling technologies to meet environmental criteria at least cost," said Diczfalusy. "The challenge is significant given the very fragmented nature of the buildings sector and the difficulty of ensuring that effective policy reaches all decision makers."

If those making the decision to buy heating and cooling equipment are not given adequate incentives to address the environmental costs of energy use, they are unlikely to make optimal decisions from an economic and environmental perspective. However, even if the environmental costs are built into energy prices, many non-cost market barriers to more efficient and low- and zero-carbon heating and cooling technologies remain. These barriers mean that addressing the unique challenges of the buildings sector will require a package of policy measures and strong, consistent, stable and balanced policy support in the following four main areas:

* Increased technology RD&D is required, with an additional USD 3.5 billion per year needed by 2030.
* Improved information for consumers and agreed, robust metrics for analysing the energy and CO2 savings of heating and cooling technologies as well as their life-cycle financial benefits.
* Market transformation (deployment) policies to overcome the current low-uptake of the many energy-efficient and low/zero-carbon heating and cooling technologies.
* Greater international collaboration in R&D, best-practice policy packages and deployment programmes to maximise the benefits of policy intervention, as well as the transfer of technical knowledge between countries and regions.

The roadmap advises OECD countries to emphasise policies that address retrofits of heating and cooling equipment in the existing building stock, given the relatively low rate of new build and slow retirement of existing buildings. In non-OECD countries, the rapid construction of new buildings means that the most urgent priority is to develop policy for heating and cooling equipment for new buildings.

The key technologies are available today

The roadmap shows how to achieve a complete transformation of heating and cooling in buildings and of providing hot water. By 2050, the policies advocated could cut fossil fuels' share in useful space and water heating to between 5% and 20% (depending on region) from today's position of dominance, while the global average efficiency of cooling systems would more than double.
The report focuses on four key technology options for heating and cooling in buildings: Other technologies and fuels play a small but important role (e.g. biomass).
* Active solar thermal systems, wherein water is heated by the sun for space, or, more commonly, for sanitary hot water use;
* Combined heat and power systems, which simultaneously produce heat and electricity for use in the building or for sale to the grid (the heat produced can be used for space or water heating, and even cooling with a thermally driven chiller);
* Heat-pump systems (such as air conditioners), which have high end-use efficiencies and can be designed to produce heat and/or cold, and depending on system design, produce these simultaneously;
* Thermal energy storage, which facilitates greater use of renewable energy, enables optimal operation of heating and cooling systems, and provides increased flexibility in balancing energy systems.
As part of the transformation outlined in the roadmap, the total number of installed heat pumps in the residential sector would grow from around 800 million today to nearly 3.5 billion by 2050. Solar thermal capacity would increase by more than 25 times today's level to reach 3 743 GWth by 2050, while capacity of distributed CHP in buildings would be 45 times greater than today's level, reaching 747 GWe in 2050. By 2050, half of all space heating and hot water systems would be equipped with thermal energy storage.

About the IEA

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous organisation which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond. Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA's initial role was to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets. While this continues to be a key aspect of its work, the IEA has evolved and expanded. It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing reliable and unbiased research, statistics, analysis and recommendations.

For a free copy of the IEA Technology Roadmap Energy-efficient Buildings: Heating and Cooling Equipment, please go here. For interview requests with the author please send an email to

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