Brussels and Beijing are quietly but increasingly cultivating contacts and exchanging expertise aimed at enhancing energy-saving practices in the building sector.
As the EU considers ways of renovating away the 40% of energy guzzled each year by its last-millennium housing stock, China is grappling with the consequences of a runaway housing boom.
Buildings account for over 25% of China’s energy use and until recently, Beijing was reportedly constructing 2 billion square metres of buildings a year – the equivalent of nearly every building in Canada.
A shared need to improve energy performance has thus spurred a flurry of contacts between the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) and the EU’s member states and Commission.
“A deepening of collaboration at operational level has also been witnessed, in particular during 2012 and 2013,” said Marlene Holzner, spokeswoman EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger.
This could be developed through joint workshops and further collaboration on building regulations, she added.
By 2030, China has pledged that energy-efficient buildings will account for 30% of the country’s new construction projects. The EU has similarly vowed to make all new buildings ‘nearly-zero emitters’ of carbon by 2021, in its Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.
In February, a Chinese government delegation toured construction projects in Montpelier and Barcelona as part of the EU-China Trade Project and held a two-day roundtable discussion with their European counterparts. Two months later, a group of European experts reciprocated with a visit to a major passive housing development in Quinhuangdao.
Joint EU-China events at Beijing’s annual conference on green buildings also show year-on-year increases, and there has been a step change in state-to-state connections.
Nan Zhou, an expert in China’s energy efficiency programmes, told EurActiv that China would be particularly interested in the EU's passive housing technology, energy labelling schemes and regulatory codes.
“Europe’s experience in district heating supply in particular could have a lot of implications for improving Chinas energy supply,” she said. “And what we can learn from China concerns behaviour. Their buildings are not so efficient but [the Chinese people] use less energy and their new buildings often have better, decentralised control strategies.”
EurActiv has learned that in March, all EU member state embassies in Beijing compiled a list of recommendations for joint projects, under the auspices of the Dutch Embassy.
The Netherlands is working on a Sino-Dutch low-carbon zone in Shenzhen, while the Europe-China Clean Energy Centre (EC2) is working on a pilot project in Urumqi.
The Swedish Embassy in Beijing is hosting a Centre for Environmental Technology to promote Stockholm’s ‘SymbioCity’ knowhow, and the European Chamber of Commerce in China is developing an ‘EU-China Sustainable Urbanisation Park’ in Shenyang.
With such a range of criss-crossing diplomatic and commercial activity, the EU acknowledges a risk of technology theft.
“The danger of industrial espionage is inherent to every business activity with third parties,” Holzner said. “It is for each and every company to run its own risk assessment and come up with the needed tools, as part of a comprehensive industrial policy.”