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Passive House in China, Part 1

The executive director of PHIUS, the U.S.-based organization, keynotes the third summit of the Passive House Alliance China

Posted on Dec 6 2016 by Katrin Klingenberg

This year I was invited to give the keynote address at Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Alliance China’s 3rd China Passive Building Summit in Shanghai, with the explicit request to report on passive building progress in the U.S. and on PHIUS’ climate-specific standards.

In light of the immense amount of development currently taking place in China, with whole cities springing up practically overnight and a huge stock of existing buildings in need of energy efficiency upgrades, China’s interest in the passive building work being done in the U.S. is significant.

It is expected that by 2030, a large number of buildings will be newly constructed or retrofitted worldwide — equivalent to about 60% of the building stock that currently exists today worldwide. Thus, it is crucial that these buildings, whether they be new construction or retrofits, perform at very high levels, ideally at zero energy or zero carbon performance thresholds, in order to tackle the challenges of global climate change.

A large portion of this new construction activity will occur in China and India.

The scope of the challenge is very large

As I arrived in Shanghai a few weeks ago, my first impression on the way into downtown was “Wow, this is a really big place.” In fact, it is the largest “city proper” in the world. Shanghai consists of a conglomeration of countless high-rise residential subdivisions that emerge soon after leaving the airport and continue to expand along the hour-long ride into downtown.

The implications of building on this scale came into focus again later that evening as I was at the hotel battling the jet lag of an 11-hour time difference following a 14-hour flight, when I heard the breaking news: the UN had just announced that 2016 is the first year on record that CO2 levels in the atmosphere not only hit 400 parts per million, but that those levels have been sustained on average throughout the entire year. Needless to say, this is a threshold with serious consequences that will take a long time to reverse — and as you know, much of that CO2 comes from operating buildings.

China is a big country, approximately the geographic size of the U.S., and it has a significant diversity of climates, many of them very similar to those in the U.S. As such, and with well over four times the population of the U.S., the country’s building community shows great interest in PHIUS’ climate-specific passive building standards.

A recent study prepared by the ) in Paris investigated low-load high-performance buildings (i.e. Passive buildings) worldwide as a necessary solution to the climate challenge.

For this study the GBPN developed a low-load space conditioning needs map which shows that the low-load systems profile (different combinations of heating, cooling, and dehumidification requirements depending on climate) of the U.S. looks almost identical to China. With such close similarities between the climates of the U.S. and China, the implementation of our methodology for developing climate-specific passive building standards in China is a logical next step.

Climate-specific standards for China

The 3rd Passive Building Summit was well organized and well attended, bringing in about 500 participants and a host of great presentations during the opening plenary followed by excellent technical sessions. On the day following my keynote, I participated in a technical workshop to assess how to facilitate continued collaboration between PHIUS and the Passive House Alliance China group going forward.

We agreed that the applicability of the climate-specific passive building standards adapted from the U.S. to the Chinese context is a no-brainer. However, more work needs to be done, such as developing metrics to incorporate local cost data for the best cost-optimized results.

We concluded the workshop with the Chinese passive building group in agreement to pursue further collaboration going forward and that PHIUS’ role in that collaboration would be to help generate Chinese climate-specific passive building standards using the same methodology used for the DOEUnited States Department of Energy./NREL report. In this arrangement, our Chinese partners would provide all the necessary information and parameters needed to run the calculations. As a first step on this front, we have already generated the climate data set for Guangzhou for the first project enrolled for PHIUS+ 2013 certification.

Please stay tuned for more information on further developments with this promising new partnership as we look forward to tackling the challenges of climate change together.

The second installment of this two-part blog series is Passive House in China, Part 2.

Katrin Klingenberg is the executive director of the Passive House Institute U.S. This post was first published at the .


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  1. Photo: Courtesy of Katrin Klingenberg

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