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UNECE and Pennsylvania State University sign MOU on High Performance Buildings

Buildings are central to meeting the challenges of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. In the developed world, buildings consume more than 70 percent of the electrical power generated and 40 percent of primary energy. Additionally, buildings are responsible for 40 percent of CO2 emissions from combustion. Developing countries will need to accommodate 2.4 billion new urban residents by 2050, and 75–90 percent of buildings standing today are expected to remain in use in 2050. Renewable energy technology alone cannot meet these requirements despite recent improvements. If the objectives of the 2030 Agenda are to be met, the energy performance of buildings must be managed. The knowledge about building science, technology and human capacity to meet this challenge is in place, but must be implemented at a massive scale.

In order to address this challenge, UNECE and Penn State signed a Memorandum of Understanding today whereby they agreed to collaborate on a Global Building Network to be established by and headquartered at Penn State. The Global Building Network will conduct the research, communication, dissemination and education necessary for implementation of UNECE’s Framework Guidelines for Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings to promote sustainable, high-performance, energy-efficient communities of buildings around the globe.

“Improving buildings’ energy performance is one action item that can have a powerful, near-term impact at global scale by drastically reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and by cutting citizens’ energy bills”, noted Ms. Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of UNECE. “By pursuing a high-performance buildings agenda, we can improve not only energy efficiency, but also health, safety, affordability, comfort… indeed overall quality of life is enhanced. This agenda will also contribute to gender equality, which is an important objective of our energy activities.”

“At Penn State we believe it is our responsibility to develop safe, clean and affordable energy, and our partnership with UNECE affords us the opportunity to put our expertise into practice,” said Dr. Eric J. Barron, president. “This work is aligned with our focus on bringing our depth of powerful research together with our commitment to impacting the world. We look forward to advancing sustainable building performance, which could ultimately help improve the quality of life for our communities.”

The Global Building Network will undertake basic research and educate next generation architects and building construction engineers. The latter will likely involve revisiting curricula, which will be a slow but steady process. Running parallel to the Global Building Network will be a string of United Nations’ Centres of Excellence that will undertake engagement with the current professional communities that are constructing or retrofitting buildings as well as with local authorities responsible for planning and permitting. The consortium of universities and the Centres of Excellence will feature a strong degree of interaction and feedback. 

Note to editors

The energy required by buildings can be reduced to a level that can be supplied largely, perhaps exclusively, by non-carbon-based energy. While further improvement in renewable energy technology and electrical and thermal storage is to be expected, the results will be more immediate and robust if buildings are transformed dramatically in terms of their energy performance.

Limiting building heating and cooling requirements to 25 kWh/m2-a (final energy in conditioned space) reduces energy needs sufficiently to permit renewables or zero carbon sources to meet most or all of the remaining space conditioning energy requirements. Total primary energy use in buildings’ conditioned spaces, including heating, ventilation, cooling and hot water, can be limited to 45 kWh/m2-a or, including plug-in loads (appliances), to 90 kWh/m2-a.  Over time with improvements in technology and materials and with enhanced connections to the built environment, these targets could be improved further. In parallel, there will be need for effective controls for generation, distribution, and emission at full and partial demand loads to match energy use with building and occupant needs.

High performance buildings have the capacity to reduce energy requirements to a point at which residual needs can be met by low or no carbon energy sources. UNECE launched its programme on high performance buildings through deployment of its Framework Guidelines for Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings and its Geneva UN Charter for Sustainable Housing.

The overall programme for UNECE’s Framework Guidelines involves: a) dissemination (national, regional and municipal leaders in the public, private, research and education sectors must be made aware of the framework’s vision, logic, practicality and advantages); b) education (information, guidance, instruction and avenues to ongoing dialogue and knowledge resources must be provided to policy, market and knowledge stakeholders to foster local development of building standards, codes and practices aligned with the Framework); c) research (through collaborations among leaders in science and technology, focused on the frontier challenges in such areas as building components and materials; building design, construction and monitoring; energy generation and distribution; integrated urban systems and life cycle management; and strategies for each country and climate zone to be carbon-free in 2050/2060); d) consultation (formal and informal channels with local policy, market and knowledge stakeholders for evaluation of impact, dialogue on in impact strategy, addressing discovered or unanticipated challenges, and cultivating a global consensus in support of the Framework); and e) participation (networks of support and engagement among leading corporations, foundations, universities, professions, civil society and others with the array of resources that will be required to make transformation a grass roots or deep market movement).

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