Energy Efficiency
Climate Change

Achieving a low carbon society

Alessandro Bracco, Director Group Marketing and Branding
Alessandro Bracco
14 June 2019

It boils down to energy efficiency.

CIIC Tower Beijing, high-rise, energy efficiency, fire-resilience

A low carbon society is a society where people collaborate to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions, whether emitted from the goings-on of daily life or from industrial and factory processes. The ultimate aim is to produce only enough carbon dioxide that can be absorbed by nature, so that we can be carbon neutral.

The need for climate action and a low carbon society

There is an urgent need for the world to reduce carbon emissions. After all, the Earth has already warmed about 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century due to the effects of greenhouse gases.

At the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) the participating countries set a goal to keeping this century’s average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. ROCKWOOL is commited to achieving this goal but in order to reach this target, the entire built environment must be carbon neutral by 20501.

How can we create a low carbon society?

For starters, carbon emissions need to be significantly reduced. Carbon emissions make up approximately 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions3, which absorb heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet.

Many human activities rely on the burning of carbon-releasing fossil fuels, such as powering buildings and transport. 

In fact, buildings alone are responsible for 40 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. What’s more, carbon dioxide emissions from the building sector have increased by 3 percent since 20102. In urban areas such as London, Los Angeles and Paris, buildings account for well over 70 percent of the cities’ overall greenhouse gas emissions4.

As such, we can reduce our carbon emissions by minimising our need for using energy indoors. For example, with a well-insulated building, we need less energy to keep a comfortable temperature or we can unplug our gadgets when not in use, or take less baths.

However, these efforts are not enough. We will not truly be able to achieve a low carbon society without taking greater steps toward climate action.

The importance of energy efficiency

Here is where the billion dollar question comes in: What can we do to further cut down on our energy consumption so that carbon emissions are reduced? This is an issue that can be addressed at its source — if we lower our energy needs, we will require less energy to consume in our day-to-day. 

Focusing on energy efficiency presents a potent solution in this regard, as it allows us to reduce energy wastage and use less energy while achieving the same level of performance.

For example, energy-saving light bulbs create the same amount of illumination as regular bulbs, without creating wasted heat, thus consuming less energy. In addition, insulating a building leads to less energy used for heating and cooling in order to achieve a satisfactory temperature.

Energy efficiency has even been dubbed the “first fuel” of a low carbon society by the Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group (EEFIG), as it is a cost-effective and widely-available resource capable of energy savings that can displace electricity generation from primary energy resources5. An increase in energy efficiency will reduce the demand for fossil fuels6 and at the same time, help grow economies while offering environmental and social benefits7. Energy efficiency implicitly offers a financial incentive for both homeowners and companies alike, as the reduced energy consumption can accumulate to large cost savings over time.

Why the building sector needs to make a change

The building sector has a critical role to play in maximising energy efficiency. Most notably, the majority of the existing building stock in Europe was built before energy efficiency standards were made by the European Commission, meaning that investing in renovations to these buildings to be more energy efficient will provide a huge savings opportunity.

After all, retrofitting existing buildings in Europe with energy saving insulation could save 660 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is twice as much as France emits in a year8. On top of that, saving energy by using modern insulation — such as stone wool products — rather than generating renewable energy, could help Europe save €22 billion in carbon emissions. This is equivalent to building 42,000 new schools, which is far greater than most other carbon reduction methods9.

That said, as energy efficiency measures reduce general demand for fossil fuels, renewable sources can account for a greater share in our overall consumption. For example, increased energy efficiency in the United States could lead to an additional 8 percent renewable energy share by 2030 on top of what is currently considered to be feasible. In India, this grows to 12 percent10.

Overall, if a low carbon society is to be achieved, swift and significant action needs to be taken. Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings around the world need to be 80 to 90 percent lower in 2050 than they are today. 

Minimising energy loads and maximising equipment efficiencies need to work hand in hand to help keep our energy levels, and as a result our greenhouse gas emissions, to a minimum. This calls for action not simply from countries and organisations, but all individuals as well.

As we work towards radically reducing our carbon footprint, the vision of a low carbon society has a chance to become a reality.

Sources:

1. Architecture 2030, 2018, “ZERO Code: The Future Has Arrived”

2. Holden, Meg, and Holt, Rebecca, 2019, “Green buildings must do more to fix our climate emergency”

3. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2016. 

4. C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Inc., 2018, “19 Global Cities Commit to Make New Buildings “Net-Zero Carbon” by 2030”

5. Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group, 2014, “Energy Efficiency – The First Fuel for the EU Economy; How to drive new finance for energy efficiency investments”

6. IPCC AR5 Database, IEA World Energy Outlook 2017, IEA Energy Technology Perspective 2017, EIA International Energy Outlook 2017, Exxon-Mobil Outlook for Energy 2018, BP energy Outlook 2018.

7. IEA, Energy Efficiency Market Report, 2013.

8. Internal calculation based on following sources: (1) BPIE, “Europe’s buildings under the microscope - A country-by-country review of the energy performance of buildings”; (2) European Commission, Joint Research Centre: EDGAR - Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, "CO2 time series 1990-2015 per region/country “ (2017)

9. BPIE, “Europe’s buildings under the microscope - A country-by-country review of the energy performance of buildings”; ); EIA (U.S. Energy Information Agency), Frequently asked questions, "How much carbon dioxide is produced when different fuels are burned?“; Department for Education and Education Funding Agency, "Area guidelines for mainstream schools", (2014); Statista, "Construction › Average cost per square meter of building schools/universities by region of the UK" (2018); IRENA, “Synergies between renewable energy and energy efficiency”, August 2017; Currencies have been converted using XE Currency Converter (16th of May 2018).

10. IRENA, 2017, “Synergies between renewable energy and energy efficiency”

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