Buildings Research China


Achieving domestic and international mid-century climate neutrality goals will require a substantial reduction in both embodied and operational energy use and emissions in Chinese buildings, which account for approximately 46% of the country's final energy usage and 51% of its total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.


For more than three decades, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab) China Research Program has been working to deliver unbiased scientific research, analysis, and tools to make buildings in China more energy efficient and healthy. Since the 1990s, the China Research Program has worked collaboratively with Chinese scientists and policymakers to conduct building sector modeling and analysis for national policy design and evaluation, including for China’s 2060 carbon neutrality target; develop building energy codes and standards, including net zero energy building standards; carryout cutting-edge research and demonstration projects on direct current (DC) power in building systems; and develop new software for district energy system planning, building energy performance benchmarking, and building retrofit analysis. More recently, work is being conducted by Berkeley Lab with China to find innovative approaches to curb embodied emissions from building construction and materials and to implement the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for Building Energy Efficiency (CERC-BEE), which conducts award-winning research with China in the areas of grid-interactive efficient buildings and devices, indoor environmental quality, and building analytics software. 

Core to the China Energy Program's value delivery model is an unparalleled technical knowledge base and network of government, intergovernmental, academic, and industry partners, in addition to world class technical capabilities and facilities, such as FLEXLAB®.


Building Sector Policy and Low Carbon Pathway

Berkeley Lab has been supporting China’s building energy and carbon emission policy since the 11th Five Year Plan (FYP). Early in 2010, Berkeley Lab provided a comprehensive research evaluation of China’s 11th FYP building energy efficiency policies. More recently, Berkeley Lab provided technical support to China’s 14th FYP policy development including setting up targets such as electrification rate in the building sector.

Graph of primary energy expenditure by use type from 2010 to 2050

To quantify energy and CO2 reduction in the building sector, Berkeley Lab has developed a comprehensive building sector energy model which includes building stock, end use energy demand intensity, technology efficiency and penetration, fuel share. The model is used to support policy making and assess policy and technology impact on China's building sector CO2 peaking and carbon neutral pathways. The model is widely used not only for national level energy and CO2 impact assessment, but also used for local levels such as Wuhan, Qingdao and other cities or provinces.

Building Codes and Energy Standards

DOE-2 logoEnergy Plus logoBuilding codes and energy standards in China are developed by code compilation committees, increasingly with industry involvement. They undergo public review and approval before adoption by China's Ministry of Housing and Urban and Rural Development (MOHURD). Berkeley Lab’s recent involvement in building codes research in China include the commercial/public building energy efficiency standard GB/T 50189-2015, and the energy consumption standard GB/T51161-2016.

More recently, the China Research Program worked on Net Zero Energy Buildings standards and contrasted U.S. ASHRAE Advanced Energy Design Guides-Achieving Zero Energy with China's Nearly Zero Energy Building standard GB/T 51350-2019.


Net Zero Energy Building

Berkeley Lab provided training in the use of DOE-2 and other building energy simulation software as well as assistance in the drafting and implementation of China's building energy standards. The first residential code was for the Heating Zone in 1996. Then Berkeley Lab helped develop residential energy standards for the Hot Summer Cold Winter region in 2001 and the Hot Summer Warm Winter region in 2004. Later on, they have also supported pilot efforts in Shanghai and four cities in South China to implement building energy codes.

The China Research Program has worked on net zero energy building (NZEB) standards and pilot projects in both China and the U.S. standards/guideline requirements are contrasted with actual building performance to highlight the current technology trends in different climate zones. We also analyzed policies based on international experiences to promote net zero energy development. Berkeley Lab worked closely with Chinese partners to develop and provide optimal operation strategies for NZEBs.

Building Materials and Embodied Emissions

Berkeley Lab research showed that building materials and construction activities generate embodied emission 1700 million tons of CO2 in 2015, which accounts for about 17% of China’s total CO2 emission and 40% of China’s building sector total emission if adding embodied emission with operation emission together. Building embodied CO2 emission consists of building material production energy use emission, material chemical reaction emission (emission from CO2 from limestone to produce cement), transportation of building materials fuel emission, construction machinery emission in construction stage, demolition emission and emission during building maintenance. Among these emissions, building material production related energy use emission and material chemical reaction emission account from 80% of the embodied emission. Berkeley Lab’s research showed that to optimize building design, choose less carbon intensive materials, and decarbonize CO2 emission in building material production can greatly reduce embodied carbon emissions. 

Graph of materials manufacturing movement cycle


Benchmarking and Retrofit Targeting

Building operations account for 22% of China’s total final energy consumption according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development (MOHURD 2019). Because of the significant energy footprint of existing buildings and the fact that the average lifespan of a Chinese building is approximately 30 years, a significant increase in the speed and scale of existing building energy efficiency retrofits is urgently needed in order to meet the country’s goals to peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

To increase the pace of building energy efficiency retrofits, Berkeley Lab has worked collaboratively with China since 2008 to introduce new software to benchmark and prepare buildings for retrofit. These include:

  • BEST, which rates actual operational energy performance of Chinese against peers utilizing principles similar to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager®.
  • BEST+, which quantifies the operational energy, cost, and emissions reduction potential in buildings and portfolios using inverse modeling and recommends efficiency measures to capture the potential. BEST+ is modeled after the U.S. DOE's award-winning Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER).  
Energy Efficiency Financing

Keeling Curve Prize logoToday, China has the most comprehensive policy package in the world to advance green financing. Despite this, due to historical reliance on grants and subsidies to advance China’s energy and emissions reduction goals, there are still significant barriers to leveraging private capital for energy efficiency, resulting in the absence of energy efficiency as an asset class and slowing market adoption of advanced energy efficiency technologies.

Berkeley Lab is working with China in the financing space to:                 

  • Uncover market and technical barriers to energy-efficiency financing
  • Build financial institution capacity on advanced building technologies that represent business and financial opportunities
  • Develop and pilot innovative energy-efficiency financial products
  • Analyze data on the performance of energy-efficiency financial products in order to continue to improve product performance and market uptake 

Berkeley Lab’s leadership on building energy efficiency financial product research and development was recognized with a 2019 Keeling Curve Prize Honorable Mention for innovation in financing tools and techniques. For more on this work, read one of our recent publications.

Direct Current (DC) Power and Renewable Integration

Berkeley Lab is the world leading research institute to promote DC power in building systems to better integrate renewable energy and battery storage. Berkeley Lab’s research shows that using a DC power distribution system can have higher efficiency and reduce system lossage of 5-14% for a typical mid-size commercial office building compared with the same building using an alternating current (AC) power distribution system. Research showed that DC power systems also demonstrate potential good cost-benefit in buildings. 

Berkeley Lab helped China design and build the first zero energy commercial office building with 100% DC power distribution system. A novel bi-polar loose coupled DC power distribution is designed and commissioned in the building to maximize system efficiency and provide integrated both energy and power with intelligent system control for end use devices. 

Circuit diagram

District Energy System Analysis and Planning

We are developing a district energy planning tool for campus and small district scale energy planning to benefit both the United States and China. The tool integrates heating, cooling, and electric loads with low energy resources. It calculates the most suitable technologies for district solutions. Equipment cost and heating and cooling pipelines are considered to help users optimize the topology of the system and find the best technological solutions for its community. 

The district system planning not only conducts technology based calculations, but also determines optimal system operation strategies and energy retail pricing schemes. Our research has shown that district heating and cooling retail prices can be integrated well with the grid pricing scheme and grid demand response. Setup optimal pricing schemes is a good way to implement cooling or heating as a service, and can bring benefits to both energy service providers as well as end use customers. The district energy can utilize waste heat and achieve high-efficient cascade heat utilization for heating and cooling. 

An online version of district energy planning tool - DEEP is available with free access.

Community microgrid diagram

U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for Building Energy Efficiency (CERC-BEE)

The U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for Building Energy Efficiency (CERC-BEE) is a ten-year initiative to support leading scientists from the U.S. and China in collaborative research to accelerate the development and deployment of advanced building technologies. 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) lead the initiative, which is managed by Berkeley Lab's China Research Program in the United States, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development Center of Science and Technology & Industrialization Development (CSTID) in China.

Research and development (R&D) teams are composed of more than 230 researchers from 75 U.S. and Chinese partner organizations in academia, non-profit, and the for-profit private sector. U.S. DOE's annual contribution to the program is $2.5 million and is matched by the Chinese government. U.S. and Chinese partners contribute additionally at a rate of more than $2 for every $1 invested by the U.S. DOE. With applications that will be of use worldwide, we are conducting research and development in five key areas:

  • Advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing
  • Grid-interactive efficient buildings and devices, such as direct current (DC) power and model predictive controls
  • Indoor environmental quality 
  • Building analytics software

Since its inception in 2010, CERC-BEE has generated 17 new products; 20 new copyrighted software tools; and 84 peer-reviewed publications to advance building performance. Its researchers have also earned awards for technological breakthroughs and innovation, including: 2021 EarthX Climate-Tech Prize Semi-Finalist; 2020, 2016, and 2013 R&D 100 Awards; a 2020 Berkeley Lab Director’s Award for Technology Transfer; a 2019 Keeling Curve Prize Honorable Mention; a 2019 HIVE 50 Award; a 2018 Best of Design Award for Digital Fabrication and a 2016 Gold Edison Award.

As new construction proceeds around the globe, collaborative research efforts are helping to lock in the tremendous potential energy and cost savings for the long term, while increasing indoor comfort and reducing stress on the electric grid.

For more information on CERC-BEE, visit   

U.S. and China Green Buildings Center

Berkeley Lab and the China Green Building Council (GBC) established the U.S.-China Green Building Center. The Center's mission is to accelerate high performance green building research and development in the United States and China. The current ongoing research includes comparison of U.S. and China green district and cities best practices and standards.

Additional Resources

Berkeley Lab provides cutting-edge research for the building industry in innovative and expansive ways. To learn more about our work, please access the web pages and resources below: