In recent years, China has experienced severe air pollution with adverse health consequences, as exemplified by recent reports of extremely high PM2.5 levels in northern cities such as Beijing. PM2.5 sample measurements have identified coal burning as a significant primary pollutant source in China, especially when coal is used as a major heating fuel in the winter. As urbanization and household income rises and demand for thermal comfort increases, the growth in coal use by the building sector, particularly for winter heating, will make buildings an increasingly significant source of PM2.5 emissions. In addition, building electricity consumption's contribution to indirect PM2.5 emissions generated by coal-fired boilers in the power sector is also often overlooked.
This paper quantifies the current and potential contribution of China's building sector to PM2.5 emissions and co-benefits of energy efficiency, fuel switching and pollution control technologies on PM2.5 emissions reduction. A bottom-up accounting model is developed and used to quantify commercial and residential buildings' coal demand for heating and electricity generation. The model then characterizes the current coal-based heating (e.g., district heating, combined heat and power generation, small-scale coal-fired boilers) and power generation technologies to estimate direct PM2.5 emissions. The results underscore the important impact of energy efficiency on not only energy savings and CO2 emissions reduction, but also on improved air quality in terms of lowered PM2.5 emissions.