As China’s urbanization and economic growth continue, rising energy use in the building sector – which already accounts for over 20% of national energy use - poses significant challenges to national energy and carbon goals. While various policies have been introduced over the years to improve building efficiency, total final building energy use (space heating, cooling, lighting, domestic hot water, etc…) is still expected to more than double through 2050 and contribute to a larger share of national energy and emissions.
This study aims to quantify China’s maximum technically feasible and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunity through 2050. We use a bottom-up model with building stock turnover to identify and evaluate the savings potential of a transformative yet cost-effective vision for Chinese residential and commercial buildings. This transformative pathway of development considers the individual and combined energy savings potential of high efficiency and passive buildings, integrated design, super-efficient appliances, smart controls, prefabricated buildings, and building-integrated renewables, microgrids and demand response. On the basis of a comprehensive baseline scenario, we developed a transformative scenario that encompasses the latest building technologies and best practice case studies of high performing buildings, and potential for adoption in China. The results show that the transformative and cost-effective pathway can significantly reduce China’s baseline building energy consumption by nearly 50% by 2050 to levels comparable with current total building energy use. The largest savings potential lies in passive building measures on heating and cooling energy use and building equipment efficiency improvements. With renewable energy incorporated, a reasonable share of Net Zero Energy Buildings can also be achieved. The results also reveal that although the current policy focus is targeted mostly on new construction, existing building retrofits will become very important. The results of this study have significant policy implications such as the need for establishing a regular codes update roadmap, tighter building codes, and data transparency and disclosure for Chinese policymakers, and offers important insights and perspectives on China’s rapidly evolving building sector.