U.S. grant will help China's new buildings go green

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 2, 2008 

WASHINGTON — A $518,000 grant that will be awarded to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on Wednesday could have potentially important consequences in the effort to control global warming amid the continuing political fallout from the Kyoto climate change treaty.

By 2015, the World Bank estimates, half the world's building construction will be in China. Over the next 20 years, China will build 430 billion square feet of floor space, or the equivalent of 20,000 to 50,000 new skyscrapers, the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of New York-based McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will be helping China create more energy efficient buildings.

Buildings, both commercial and residential, consume about one-third of all the energy used in China. Meanwhile, between one and two new coal plants come on-line in China every week, releasing carbon dioxide and other gases that are borne by upper level winds across the Pacific to the West Coast of the United States.

In an effort to control its greenhouse gas emissions, China introduced green building codes two years ago, requiring all cities to cut their building energy use in half by 2010 and by 65 percent by 2020. The codes involve such things as lighting, insulation, heating and air conditioning.

Only about 4 percent of China's existing buildings meet the codes.

The grant announced Wednesday would allow the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to help train construction companies and inspectors in two Chinese cities about green construction. Eventually, a handbook will be created and distributed throughout China.

"China is committed to reducing its energy consumption," said Bin Shui, PNNL's project manager for the two-year pilot project.

PNNL is one of 10 Department of Energy laboratories. Headquartered in Richland, Wash., near the Hanford nuclear reservation, PNNL has about 4,200 employees. It also operates a marine research facility in Sequim, Wash., and has offices in Seattle, Tacoma, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

Among the projects the lab is working on are underground carbon sequestration, advanced fuel-efficient transportation and improved energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings.

Shui said China's new construction codes compare favorably with those in the United States.

"While these are noble goals, in actuality it can take a long time," said Merydydd Evans, who is also working on the grant for the lab, adding that new buildings can be 50 percent more fuel efficient than existing ones. "This is not rocket science. It's a lot easier to build in efficiencies in the beginning."

The grant is part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which was launched by the Bush administration three years ago to accelerate the development and use of green energy technologies. Its members include the United States, China, India, Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea.

Three of those countries — the United States, China and India — never signed the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels.

"We are bringing the Chinese and Indians to the table," said Griffin Thompson, a senior energy adviser at the State Department and program manager for the Asia-Pacific Partnership. "This isn't about U.N. negotiators and arcane texts. China already has the building codes. Enforcement and compliance have always been the Achilles heel."

Efforts to control greenhouse gases don't get anywhere without China and India, and China appears "very much" committed to implementing its building codes, Thompson said.

"We are trying to figure out how to do things without the U.N.," Thompson said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the PNNL grant was significant because, in lieu of Kyoto, the administration had been seeking agreements directly with China about global warming.

"This is the first agreement," Cantwell said.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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