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close this book BASIN - News No. 6 - July 1993 : Energy efficiency and environmental protection
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Energy efficiency and environmental protection

Since the beginning of this century energy has become a key factor in the life of all species on our planet Earth. Life in cities collapses if the provision of electricity breaks down or if fuel for transportation is not available. Even agriculture depends on fertilizers which are produced and transported with a high energy input. Industrial production, various services, telecommunications, transportation and our daily life have become very vulnerable because they all depend so highly on a continous provision of energy in all forms. Even a mother who has to walk for miles to find a bundle of firewood to cater for her family has become the victim of local energy shortages.

Global energy consumption

Approximately 75% of global energy consumption consists of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal). These fuels cause an imbalance in the global CO2 (carbon dioxide) production which leads to the greenhouse effect. The tremendous increase in world energy consumption since World War II is unbroken.

Correlation between population and energy consumption increase and increases CO2 in the atmosphere

Waste of energy in industrialized countries

Although the energy efficiency of industrial production and transportation has improved in the last decade, energy consumption is still increasing. The 25% of the world population who live in industrialized countries consume two thirds of the annual global energy production. With current knowledge and existing technologies it would be feasibleto reduce this waste of energy by 30% or more.

distribution of energy consumption betw<een industrialized and third world countries

Scarcity and inefficient use of energy in the Third World

When we look at per capita energy consumption we are aware that the people in Third World countries consume five to thirty times less energy than Europeans or North Americans. This relatively low energy consumption per capita in the third world does not mean that energy is used in an efficient way. Around 75% of people in developing countries rely on wood and charcoal for fuel. The estimated 300 million tons of fuel-wood consumed each year by industries (see article by ITGD) and the additional wood burned for domestic use, are used with a very low thermal efficiency. The achievement of higher economic prosperity in these countries will create a tremendous increase in energy consumption for industrial production, transportation and communication. Therefore, an increase in productivity must absolutely be combined with an increase in energy efficiency.

More energy for industrial production, less energy for comfort

When we look at the building materials and construction industry we can see two kinds of energy consumption: on one hand fuel is consumed for the production and transportation of building materials, on the other hand electricity and fuel are both used for cooking, lighting, telecommunication, cooling and heating in the buildings. these so-called "modern" buildings are too often built in such a way that they have an unnecessarily high energy consumption for cooling and lighting. There is knowledge existing where buildings are designed to offer excellent comfort with natural cooling, ventilation and intensive daylighting thus reducing the energy consumption to a very low degree. If we could avoid the inefficient use of energy in buildings we could transfer this saved energy and use it i efficiently in the production of building materials and for better communication and services.

Energy efficient production of building materials

As ITDG states in its article, 12 to 14 hectares of plantation would be needed for each ton of hydrated lime to be produced each day. Being aware of such figures it becomes obvious that every effort should be made to choose the most efficient technology to produce building materials. Comparing different kinds of kilns shows that for instance a high-tech lime kiln consumes 4 MJ/kg of hydrated lime whereas a good "appropriate technology kiln" only consumes 6 MJ/kg. A traditional kiln in the countryside however requires 12 MJ/kg. Experience shows that it is easy and feasible technically even for rather remote areas to reduce the energy consumption in brick, lime or cement clinker kilns by 20-50%. Unfortunately, sometimes more energy efficient technologies are rejected because of cultural or economic reasons. In this issue of BASIN-News, the facts show that there is a great range of technical solutions available and an increasing number is being applied in building material production all over the world.

Energy efficient transportation

The reduction of energy consumption in buildings has little impact on the national energy consumption if the urban and rural transportation systems waste energy. Therefore the design of low energy houses should be combined with an urban design that allows the use of public transportation and bicycles.

If the cities maximize public transportation, the use of bicycles and minimize the use of private cars the result would be lower costs for energy and road construction, less traffic jams and less air pollution.

Construction with nature and climate

Buildings which are designed according to the design rules described in Paul Gut’s Book "Climate Responsive Building" (see his article) and to the experiences stated by CRATerre (see article) offer a high aesthetic and architectural quality which is combined with excellent indoor comfort.

The most recent trends in industrialized countries in so called "intelligent buildings" are natural ventilation and cooling, optimization of daylighting, use of natural building materials, which can be reused or recycled. The integration of buildings into natural and urban environments may also show that this approach is not only restricted to developing countries but also applies to the whole world. Architects and engineers all over the world are starting to design houses which use less technical installations and have lower energy consumption yet offer more comfort and better architectural quality. It is of great importance that donor agencies and development agencies (NGOs and governmental organizations) support this trend which is so far still limited to a rather small group of avant-garde professionals. Donors and building contractors must require from their architects the design of buildings according to rules which respect ecological aspects and energy efficiency.

Ecology means economy

The selling price of energy, be it electricity or fossil fuels, is established according to several market factors which do not consider the costs of ecological damages caused by excessive energy consumption. Since the price of energy has a great effect on local and global economies and politics, it is also an instrument of political and economic power. The situation is somewhat absurd: families in many areas have to spend a major part of their income for buying firewood just to assure their basic needs, whereas in industrialized countries the oil price is lower than 20 years ago. We should find methods on how to share the limited energy resources between industrialized and developing countries in a way that allows stable development in the third world with energy prices adapted to the local situations and in the support of the most efficient use of energy, if we want to overcome economic and ecological collapses. It is not the lack of knowledge or technologies that impedes more efficient energy use and the protection of the natural environment, but the lack of awareness of the urgency of these problems in the daily decision making on all levels and in places all over the world. Technical solutions and economic models which would allow to approach these problems with a better chance of success exist already. We have to support the implementation of these methods in our daily work.

Towards a future with nature and solar energy

The ecological and economic situation on our planet Earth is dramatic. Ecological and economic systems are collapsing in many parts of the world, be it hurricanes with increasing devastation in the Caribbean, the terrible accident in the chemical factory in India, dead lakes and forests in the northern hemisphere, or the collapse of the economy and industry in some countries of Eastern Europe. Insurance companies have had to increase their rates for certain risks by 600% or even to exclude specific risks due to an enormous increase of damages created by hurricanes, floodings, earth slides, etc. We have neither time nor energy to waste. Let us try our best to integrate energy efficiency and environmental protection in our daily work within BASIN and in the building construction industry all over the world.

Roland Stulz is an architect and consultant to SKAT and BASIN since its foundation. He has an interdisciplinary office specialised in energy saving technologies and building construction ecology in Zürich, Switzerland.