Research on energy demand in buildings

The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 could make a difference in global energy consumption. According to it, it is necessary to reduce global CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and continue decreasing them to reach net zero by 2050. This is supposed to reduce the side effects of climate change by keeping the rise in mean global temperature below 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

In order for humankind to successfully transition to sustainable energy usage, a reduction in energy demand is necessary. For instance, to be able to limit global warming below 1.5 °C, we will need to rapidly decarbonize our energy systems. Low energy-consuming practices, including new behaviors and the adoption of more efficient technologies, can potentially contribute to decreasing energy demand and, in turn, reducing CO2 emissions.

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In 2014, energy consumption in buildings accounted for 23% of energy-related CO2 emissions that year. Studies have already found that there is substantial potential to reduce energy demand in buildings through both technological and behavioral changes, but it is also necessary to combine the two.

The Energy Demand GEnerator (EDGE) is a bottom-up energy demand model developed by researchers to estimate energy demand in buildings. It takes into account five energy services: space cooling, space heating, water heating, appliances and lighting, and cooking. By utilizing EDGE, it is possible to predict how behavioral and technological changes to our energy consumption could help reduce energy demand in buildings.

There are two possible scenarios that could develop: one with low energy demand and one with very low energy demand. In both cases, a number of measures could be implemented, including:

  • Space Cooling and Heating: A number of both technological and behavioral changes can be made in different aspects related to space cooling and heating:
    • Insulation: Two technological changes can be made: improvement of insulation materials and improvement of windows.
    • Indoor Temperature: Indoor temperatures could vary with outdoor temperatures, which would be a behavioral change.
    • Efficient Cooling and Heating: Two technological changes can be made: more efficient heat pumps and more efficient air conditioners.
    • Floor Space: A possible behavioral change would be to have a lower demand for floor space.
  • Water Heating: A number of changes can be made in three different areas related to water heating:
    • Personal Hygiene: A behavioral change would be to have consumers take shorter and lesser showers, while a technological change would be to implement water-saving showerheads.
    • Clothes Washing: A technological change would be to have more efficient clothes washers, and a behavioral change would be to wear the same clothes more often.
    • Dishwashers and Faucets Usage: One technological change would be to have more efficient dishwashers. Two behavioral changes are possible as well: only have full loads and reduce the use of hot water from faucets.
  • Appliances and Lighting: There is one possible technological change that could be made, which is using more efficient appliances.
  • Cooking: There are currently no specific actions that could be performed to reduce energy consumption.

According to predictions, the adoption of these new low-energy consuming practices on a global scale could reduce energy demand in buildings by up to 47% in 2050 and 61% in 2100. This result can be achieved mostly thanks to the changes in hot water usage, insulation of buildings, and consumer choices in air conditioners and heat pumps.

The adoption of such behaviors can be particularly effective in the long term. If compared to the levels of energy consumption in buildings seen in 2015, by 2100, these would decrease by 11% instead of a 126% increase that would be seen without the implementation of such changes. Making these technological and behavioral changes in practice can be quite challenging, but there is a need for them, and the areas where they could be made have demonstrated a lot of room for improvement.