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Demand-side Mitigation Policies: The Role of the Buildings Sector


Levesque,  Antoine
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Edenhofer,  Ottmar
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Löschel,  Andreas
External Organizations;

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Levesque, A. (2021): Demand-side Mitigation Policies: The Role of the Buildings Sector, PhD Thesis, Berlin : Technische Universität.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_26388
In 2015, the international community committed to limiting global warming well below 2°C. Since 2015, however, and before the coronavirus pandemic stroke, GHG emissions have continued on their growing track and the achievement of ambitious climate targets has become even more arduous. In order to rein in global warming well below 2°C, energy systems must reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. The energy supply, in particular the electricity sector, offers a great potential for reducing emissions. But in the absence of large transformations on the energy demand side, achieving the Paris Agreement’s target would necessitate an extensive recourse to debated negative emission technologies. The interest in demand-side solutions has therefore risen over the last few years. Today, buildings account for 28% of CO2 emissions in the energy system. This sector is therefore an essential building block of any successful mitigation strategy. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the contribution of buildings to limit climate change. The widespread view on the role of buildings is that there is a large and cost-effective potential for energy demand reductions, and that this potential remains unexploited due to some barriers, which policies should remove. This thesis relies on energy modeling to shed a new light on that widespread view. It uses the strengths of both an energy simulation model and of an integrated assessment model representing the energy, economy and climate systems. In order to assess the role of buildings in climate policies, the thesis addresses the following complementary questions: How will buildings energy consumption evolve in the future? What is the technological and behavioral potential for demand reductions? What are optimal climate change mitigation pathways for the buildings sector in the context of the overall energy system, and when the energy efficiency gap is taken into account? This thesis shows that the landscape of buildings energy demand will undergo major changes in the 21st century: while cooking and other heating purposes account for the bulk of the demand today; space cooling, appliances and lighting will represent the lion’s share tomorrow. Similarly, despite its current weight in demand, traditional biomass will gradually leave the stage. Against this background, radical changes in technologies and behaviors could lead to a halving of energy demand. The decarbonization of the sector however does not only pass through energy demand reductions. In the scenarios presented in this thesis, most of the decarbonization is attributed to the decline in the emissions per unit of energy consumed — a topic under-represented in the literature dealing with build- ings energy demand. In light of the thesis’ results, and supported by the literature, we challenge the widespread view on the role of buildings in climate change mitigation. Indeed, the widespread narrative focuses mostly on energy demand reductions and does not embrace the strategy consisting in decreasing the amount of emissions per unit of energy — in particular via electrification and fuel switching. This strategy accounts however for a substantial part of the sector’s decarbonization. We therefore propose an alternative narrative: Two complementary and interacting strategies can lead to a deep decarbonization of buildings energy demand: reducing energy demand and decreasing the carbon content of energy demand through energy supply decarbonization and fuel switching. Virtually all energy services in buildings could be provided by carbon-free energy carriers. How- ever market incentives as well as barriers do not allow for a widespread uptake of clean energy carriers and efficient technologies. Policies should remove barriers to the uptake of efficient and low-carbon technologies, and design markets to give the right incentives in favor of these options.