Researchers develop model to reduce CO2 emissions from buildings by 80 percent by 2050

By Teodor Teofilov

The energy use in buildings for heating, cooling and keeping the lights on in the office, was responsible for 36 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. Slashing these emissions will contribute significantly to combating climate change and a new model developed by researchers suggests that it is possible to cut CO2 emissions, according to a research paper published in the journal Joule on Aug. 15, 2019.

The paper claims that buildings could cut their total emissions by 80 percent compared to 2005 by 2050. The research team, comprised of Chioke Harris, Janet Reyna and led by Jared Langevin identified three key technologies that will allow buildings to meet the ambitious goal.

“Buildings are a substantial lever to pull in trying to reduce total national CO2 emissions since they are responsible for 36% of all energy-related emissions in the U.S.,”Jared Langevin, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said in a statement. “Because the buildings sector uses energy in a multitude of ways and is responsible for such a large share of electricity demand, buildings can help accelerate the cost-effective integration of clean electricity sources on top of contributing direct emissions reductions through reduced energy use.”

The U.S. is the second-largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, and substantial reductions are necessary to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change. With buildings in the U.S. being responsible for more than a third of CO2 emissions, the country and the world will have to reassess its approach to buildings if it wants to keep climate change in check. Adding more renewable energy to the power grid alone won’t be enough.

Courtesy of Langevin et al./Joule

In order to estimate the magnitude of possible CO2 emissions reductions from the U.S. buildings sector, the researchers considered three types of efficiency measures:

  • Retrofitting and upgrading existing aspects of buildings can make the environment more comfortable for occupants. Using technologies with higher energy performance than typical alternatives, such as dynamic windows and air sealing of walls.
  • Smarter buildings could help reduce emissions. Using technologies to determine when, where and how much various services run inside the building. Sensing and control strategies that improve the efficiency of building operations.
  • Converting heat pumps to electricity-powered systems that will move away from the current fuel-fired heating and water systems will also reduce building emissions.

Bringing these strategies to fruition and reaching the ambitious goal of reducing buildings emissions by 80 percent will be dependent on complementary action by policymakers, manufacturers and vendors, building service professionals and consumers.

The researchers have published their efficiency measures and results data, which was generated using Scout, which could be updated every year to show the main changes in the electricity supply environments and building energy use.

The study was financially supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office.

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