Each country is experiencing significant change, economically, socially and politically, which will impact on the direction and extent of low carbon measures. There has been a positive impact on recognising the problems associated with poorly built housing and the importance of renewable energy by policy makers. Earlier initiators such as Germany are forging forward in terms of low energy building and conservation:
'The 2009 revision of Germany's EnEV (Energy Conservation Regulations) is one of the most stringent codes in the world and includes a commitment to meet 15% heating, hot water or cooling energy demand from renewables'
Other countries, such as Singapore, are in the early stages of recognising the importance of energy efficiency in housing and energy supply:
'As a result of its place as a net energy importer, Singapore has been progressive in reducing its dependency on foreign energy through improved energy efficiency, especially in building and households'
Many countries have been motivated by global concerns over energy security, while others have been driven by national issues. As climate change and reduced dependence on fossil fuels become increasingly important among the public, both governments and private bodies have reacted accordingly, though to varying degrees.
Nearly all the countries in the compendium have plans to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency in the housing and building sector. China has set admirable aspirations for the future with regular reviews, which in other countries are often overlooked once national targets have been set. Also important is the clear commitment of funding to achieve these goals, such as in the United States. Aspirations are only as strong as the plan to achieve them:
'As part of the 11th Five Year Plan on Energy Development, China plans to reduce the energy consumption of residential and public buildings by 65% by 2020'
'The New Energy for America plan has committed $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyse private efforts for building a clean energy future, ensure that 10% energy generation comes from renewable energy by 2012, and reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050'
While many of the countries have similar targets for carbon emissions, renewable energy, and building efficiency, few have developed novel goals. A change in thinking in the construction industry may be required if current targets prove insufficient. However, France has proven to be innovative with its national goals for 2020:
'Of particular significance is France's agenda for technological change to ensure that new buildings should be energy positive, producing more energy than they consume by 2020'
While low carbon renovation and retrofit have become the norm in many countries, a shortage of adequate housing and growing populations have raised concerns regarding new construction and energy use. This is particularly an issue in developing countries, though all the compendium countries are tackling the energy concerns associated with the provision of new housing.
'Rapid industrialisation and mass electrification programs in South Africa have caused demand to regularly outstrip supply'
Ensuring new homes are built to a very high standard will help us achieve our targets and drive innovation and industry to make technologies more readily available for existing stock. Russia provides a good example of the importance of promoting quality in addition to quantity, while large scale developments or prefabricated homes offer major opportunities for the implementation of low carbon measures:
'Established in 2009, Russia's Green Building Council has been instrumental in promoting energy efficiency and low carbon building, as the country continues to experience a boom in construction'
'Roughly one out of seven newly built houses in Japan is a prefabricated house'
Ensuring energy security and meeting future energy demands remain the key issues on the majority of global national agendas. This is the case in both developed and developing countries, where a range of influences including lifestyle, available natural resources, industrialisation and the drive for universal electrification:
'Canada has the world's third-largest installed hydroelectricity capacity as of early 2011'
'Until recently, Switzerland has been self sufficient and able to export energy in the summer months, with one of the lowest energy per capita figures in the developed world. More recently it has become a net annual importer, as demand has outpaced generation'
Ensuring a sustainable long-term energy supply has potentially major positive impacts on national economies and the strong development of national residential sectors, and in many countries the growth of renewable energy installations is accelerating.
'As of 2010, renewables contributed to 38% of New Zealand's total primary energy supply and recent years have witnessed increased interest in the development of solar, wind and bioenergy systems'
'With regard to energy imports and exports, the Netherlands is the second largest natural gas producer in Europe and the ninth overall worldwide.'
There is a high degree of acceptance and drive for improved housing standards, particularly at the policy level. This has coincided with the proliferation of green building councils worldwide and the spread of certification systems such as LEED, BREEAM and Green Star, as well as the development of bespoke national programs:
'Based on the BREEAM rating scheme, Australia's Green Star is a perfectly adapted national standard that is suited to the Australian climate, and has since been adopted by New Zealand and South Africa'
With improved overall public awareness, many countries could afford to implement more stringent, binding goals. Both the UK and Sweden can act as leaders in this regard:
'The UK's renewable energy goals are directed by the Renewable Energy Strategy 2009. The strategy has set a legally-binding target of increasing renewable energy contribution to 15% by 2020'
'The proportion of renewable energy used in Sweden has increased from 34% in 1990 to 44.4% in 2010, and today has the highest proportion of renewable energy in the EU, with a goal to reach 49% by 2020'
With issues as large and complex as global energy security and climate change, national plans will need to be tailored to national circumstances and be effective in incentivising a low carbon economy. Strategies must be integrated and applicable in specific national circumstances, hence the quite different strategies displayed for example by the Netherlands and Ireland:
'More than 60% of all dwellings are connected to a district heating network in which the heat is produced from decentralised CHP, running mainly on a mix of oil, natural gas and renewables.
'Ireland's Microgeneration Support Programme was established in 2008 with an allocation of €2 million to identify the potential and establish the necessary infrastructure for small and micro-scale wind, solar and hydro in the domestic and commercial sectors'
Clear and focused strategies for improved housing standards can help consolidate efforts and engage the public. Incentives for both individuals and the private sector have an important role to play in promoting energy efficiency policies. Countries with well established low carbon strategies can also provide important guidance for others who are just beginning to improve their housing stock and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels:
'In terms of researching efficient building solutions and energy efficiency across all sectors, Austria has proved an early pioneer and model for many environmental initiatives'
While present programmes should ensure the uptake of proven technology, others should be geared towards new technology as it develops. An effective balance must be advanced so that renewable technology becomes more widespread and reliable for consumers and industry alike. This can only be achieved through government investment in advancing low carbon technologies:
'Rapid expansion in India is expected to outpace current fossil fuel capacity and as a result, the need for the development of alternative sources such as nuclear, wind and solar power has become increasingly apparent'
While the role of innovation and research is essential to the decarbonisation of the national grid and improving renewable technologies, there are less complex steps to be taken that are often overlooked. This is especially true in housing, where many houses can be improved through improved insulation, more efficient services and passive design measures, as evidenced in a number of case studies. Brazil is a strong example of small opportunities that have the potential for big benefits:
'Brazil's Green Building Council initiated the 'One Degree Less' project in 2009 in an attempt to reduce the planet's temperature by one degree to combat climate change and reduce the urban heat island effect'