May 12, 2003
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Berkeley Lab's energy-efficiency partnership with China
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China, the world's most populous nation, has had one of the world's fastest growing economies since the late 1970s, when its leaders began introducing market reforms. Much of that growth has been powered by fossil fuels, especially from the nation's abundant supplies of coal. However, with the help of technical advice from Berkeley Lab's China Energy Group, as well as experts from other institutions around the globe, energy efficiency is playing a larger role in China's energy plans.

A symbol of the China Energy Group.

Early in its market-reform process, China's leaders took an interest in promoting energy efficiency. They recognized that economic modernization could be limited by the availability of energy. Improving energy efficiency offered the nation a way to keep its developing market economy on track, as well as a cost-effective option for reducing pollutant emissions from fossil-fuel-burning plants, a major issue of concern in China today. Because the country is the world's second largest energy consumer and emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), efforts to reduce these emissions can have a substantial effect on world GHG levels.

Researchers at Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) began studying China's energy consumption and began a partnership to provide technical advice on improving energy efficiency in the late 1980s. From the beginning, the Berkeley Lab collaborated extensively with the Energy Research Institute, China's most influential energy-policy think tank. Cooperative work has extended to include other major national and local centers for energy and environmental research.

This longstanding partnership with the Chinese government has borne considerable fruit. Among its achievements are the creation of new efficiency programs, including energy-efficiency standards and energy-efficiency labels. These were developed with technical assistance by Berkeley Lab researchers, who have also helped the government to create institutions promoting efficiency, and to improve its capacity to analyze and understand how China's economy uses energy.

A partnership with Shanghai

The Lab's work with the city of Shanghai is an example of a recent success.

"Shanghai is the site of a major construction boom," says EETD director Mark Levine, who also leads the China Energy Group. "However, many buildings that are going up have been inefficient. City leaders were concerned and wanted to do something about it." At one point, says a Chinese news article, there were more cranes per square meter in Shanghai than anywhere else in the world.

In China, demand for appliances is growing fast.

Berkeley Lab scientist Joe Huang worked with the city to develop a commercial building energy efficiency standard, which is now in the pilot phase of implementation. Levine and Jiang Lin, another scientist at the China Energy Group, have also been helping the Shanghai Municipal Construction Commission to implement the recently adopted residential building codes for the middle part of China. According to the Commission's plan, one million square meters of floor space would be covered by this standard by the end of 2002, and another 3 million square meters of floor space would meet the standard by the end of 2003.

"We are also supporting Shanghai in the development of market rules to bring energy service companies into existence," says Levine. Energy service companies, or ESCOs, are private companies that install energy-efficient technology in commercial facilities, often earning their fees from a percentage of the energy savings over a period of years. In this effort, Jiang Lin is closely working with the Shanghai Economic Commission and the Shanghai Advisory Committee on ESCOs, led by the deputy Mayor of Shanghai. The Advisory Committee has authorized more than 30 feasibility studies to identify savings in commercial enterprises in Shanghai. "One study identified potential savings of $1 million per year at a pharmaceutical concern," Levine notes.

Creating appliance energy standards and labeling

One of the largest efforts of the China Energy Group has been to support agencies developing energy efficiency standards for appliances and energy-efficiency labeling. Berkeley Lab has provided technical assistance to the U.S. Department of Energy for years, as DOE promulgates consensus-based efficiency standards for appliances in the U.S., and it has also provided expertise to the DOE/Environmental Protection Agency "Energy Star" program to develop voluntary energy efficiency labeling. So the Lab was an obvious source of expertise for the Chinese government.

"We have helped the Chinese develop their minimum energy-efficiency standards program, as well as their energy-efficiency labeling program," says China Group scientist David Fridley.

In this effort, China Group researchers work closely with Ms. Li Aixian, Director of the Standards Group at the China National Institute of Standardization (CNIS), Li Tienan, Director of the China Certification Center for Energy Conservation Products (CECP), and others. In recognition of the success of the minimum efficiency standards program to date, Ms. Li of CNIS was awarded the EPA's Climate Protection Award in 2003.

In 1980 China produced fewer than 50,000 household refrigerators, 200,000 television sets, 250,000 clothes washers, and 13,000 air conditioners. By 2001, refrigerator and clothes-washer production exceeded 13 million, room air-conditioner production soared to 23 million, and more than 40 million color televisions were rolling out of factories, making China the largest appliance producer in the world. The increase in appliance ownership has led to an average 16 percent growth in household electricity consumption per year since 1980. Hoping to stem that tide, in 1989 China's State Bureau of Technical Supervision (SBTS) issued the first set of minimum efficiency standards for eight products, including refrigerators, room air conditioners, clothes washers, and television sets.

New refrigerators, 40 percent more efficient than today's average, help cope with pollution and increasing energy demand.    

SBTS approached Berkeley Lab in 1995 for help as it began to revise its first energy efficiency standard. SBTS staff came to Berkeley, where researchers trained them in analytical methods for performing detailed economic and engineering analyses. These methods were used to produce the revised refrigerator standard; cooperation on several more standards followed, and the Lab provided increasing amounts of training.

"Our group has conducted more than 96 person-months of training for Chinese officials here in Berkeley over the last three years," says China Energy Group scientist David Fridley.

One of the first cooperative projects with the Chinese, also started in 1995, was to help design energy-efficient refrigerators free of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), with funding from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). Fridley, who administered this project for Berkeley Lab, says, "It resulted in a new design that is 40 percent more efficient than average existing models. Consumer models based on the design are being introduced to the market by Chinese manufacturers."

Currently, China has issued minimum efficiency standards for linear and compact fluorescent lamps, fluorescent lamp ballasts, room air conditioners, and small and medium motors. A new standard for clothes washers is being finalized, with involvement by Berkeley Lab staff, the EPA, the Energy Foundation, and the Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standards Program (CLASP), a joint initiative of Berkeley Lab, the Alliance to Save Energy, and the International Institute for Energy Conservation. For the near future the successor agency to China's SBTS, the Standardization Administration of China (SAC), has also planned standards for televisions, central air conditioners, water heaters, gas appliances, and the revision of the existing refrigerator and room air-conditioner standards.

Energy efficient China, part 2