Boston, MIT, May 10, 2011 - Researchers at MIT,
in collaboration with colleagues at China's Tsinghua University,
have created a new set of tools that can evaluate the energy
performance of real estate projects while they are still in the
process of design.
The tools are intended to help shape the process of urbanization
at the scale at which cities are actually built - one neighborhood
at a time - producing cleaner energy patterns than would otherwise
The tools include a pattern book for neighborhood forms that
have proven to be energy efficient and an Energy Proforma@ that
represents the energy value of a neighborhood form with a single
By providing a common measure for
assessing clean energy projects, the tools will contribute to the
creation of public policy in China and will hopefully produce a
model for assessing clean energy urban form that will become common
practice for development worldwide.
Led at MIT by Dennis Frenchman and Christopher Zegras, the
research is a response to the breakneck economic growth in China
over the last thirty years, growth that has dramatically changed
the Chinese urban landscape through rapid urban expansion, housing
development and massive new infrastructure projects, leading their
cities to consume ever more energy.
(More than 46% of China's total energy consumption can be
attributed to the built environment and the life of people within
it, a proportion that continues to increase.)
While previous research has illustrated the problem, this
research seeks to help developers choose among a vast array of
variables to design more efficient scenarios in particular
circumstances; to help them assess the energy consumption for a
specific project while in the process of design; and to do this in
a way that is easily compared to other projects, to provide a basis
for energy policy about the built environment.
The project focused on the city of Jinan as a test case. Studies
were undertaken of the four principal neighborhood forms that have
been used to develop the city - forms that reflect successive
national policies toward urbanization - by assessing energy
consumption in three key areas: transportation and mobility,
operational energy and embedded energy.
For transportation and mobility, the question was how
neighborhood form affects the amount and type of transportation
used. For operational energy, how much energy is required for
heating, cooling and lighting, etc.
And for embedded energy, how much energy is consumed in the
construction and life cycle of the buildings and site. A key
finding is that the type of urban form does significantly affect
energy consumption; the studies help to understand why and by how
much in Jinan.
In a parallel survey of efforts worldwide, the research
identified six examples of clean energy urban form and distilled
the prototypes into a pattern book that provides examples for
designers, and a database for comparing the energy performance of
different design approaches.
The intention is that these prototypes, along with new ones,
will replace existing typologies that evolved with no consideration
of energy consumption.
The other main product of the research is the Energy Proforma,
similar to the financial pro forma commonly used in real estate
development. The financial pro forma collapses a wide array of
factors such as market demand, construction systems, costs and
effects over time into a single number that represents the rate of
return on a project.
Likewise, the Energy Proforma collapses the transport,
operational and embodied energy use of a neighborhood form - along
with its potential for energy production over time - into a single
number representing its net present energy value.
The tools were put to use for the first time this past summer in
the MIT-Tsinghua Joint Urban Design studio in Jinan, led by
Frenchman and Jan Wampler. Five teams of graduate students from MIT
and Tsinghua University in Beijing used the tools to develop
proposals for new Clean Energy Neighborhoods in a town being
planned on the new high-speed rail line from Beijing to Shanghai.
(Jinan is the only stop).
The results were successful not only in terms of energy
efficiency -- surpassing some of the international models -- but
also in terms of urban design quality and livability, indicating
that these two goals are mutually reinforcing: good urban design
equates to lower energy consumption.
The ultimate challenge for China is to craft an energy policy
that does not specify an ideal model of development, for two
principal reasons. First, energy performance at the neighborhood
scale is affected by an enormous number of variables and efficiency
may be achieved through different strategies.
And second, simplistic regulations in the Chinese model of
top-down planning can lead to highly standardized, repetitive
neighborhood design in which the minimum requirement becomes the
dominant rationale for form, as with the rigidly aligned slab
neighborhoods found across the country.
In such cases the minimum standards can overwhelm considerations
of livability, as well as innovation in housing and neighborhood
design, since the most expedient (or only) route to approval is to
construct the standard form. A successful energy policy must
encourage clean energy neighborhoods that are - equally importantly
- good places to live.