"It is so hot inside, that I have to open the window to get some fresh air," said Yang Lu, a 30-year-old Beijing resident who complained about the high temperature of her heating system.
Although the country is suffering from a tight energy supply, energy conservation in buildings is often neglected.
"To open windows to cool down the inside rooms during the winter, is obviously a waste of energy," Yang said while shrugging her shoulders.
In order to change the situation, China plans to rapidly develop building energy conservation from this year.
The country has drawn up a long and medium-term energy conservation plan to put energy saving high on the government's agenda from 2006 to 2020, and energy conservation in buildings has been given an important place in the plan.
Building energy conservation has been included in the key projects of the plan, which means the government will inject a great deal of investment and render support through preferential policies.
Governments at different levels are attaching growing importance to energy conservation in building construction, and have worked out several laws and regulations to promote it.
The central government has already produced an energy conservation law, and a regulation on building energy conservation, which has been effective for at least four years.
A law to encourage the use of renewable energies is expected to take effect in the first or second quarter of the year, according to inside sources.
The draft renewable energy law encourages the use of solar, wind and bio-bass resources, by fixing a proportion of new energies to be utilized in energy-consuming industries including power generation and construction, said an insider.
The new law will also offer favorable policies to those who use renewable energies, according to the draft.
At the local level, the Beijing government promulgated a management regulation on energy saving in buildings as early as in September 2001, and other provinces and municipalities also have related policies to promote energy conservation in the construction industry.
Experts said, however, the current set of laws and regulations are not effective and systematic enough to balance the development of building energy conservation.
"We should work out more laws and regulations to further boost energy conservation in construction, and devote greater effort to the implementation of these rules," said an analyst from China Securities.
During the Central Economic Conference 2004 in December last year, the central government vowed to heavily promote housing that features energy conservation, and develop technologies involved in building energy conservation.
According to the long and medium energy conservation plan, residential and public buildings are supposed to halve their energy consumption during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) - compared with the current level.
The China Long and Medium-Term Energy Conservation Plan, drawn up by the National Development and Reform Commission, is divided into two phases: the 11th Five-Year Plan and the period between 2007 and 2020.
The plan also hints at speeding up the reform of the heating system, especially in the northern areas of China which devour a large amount of energy for heating.
Minister of Construction Wang Guangtao said the country's focused attention in the building energy conservation would target energy resources, land uses, water and building materials.
In addition to these efforts being made on the policy side, experts suggest rolling out an economic incentive mechanism to bolster the rational development of energy saving in construction.
"A host of economic measures including taxation, pricing and distribution of extra allowances should be carried out, to drive the energy conservation," said Yu Cong, director of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission.
If all measures are adopted effectively, energy consumption in building constructions would suffice to save 50 million tons of coal equivalents during the 11th Five-Year Plan period.
Some local governments have built pilot projects to highlight energy conservation in building constructions, and to enhance the public awareness of energy saving.
Beijing completed its first large-scale residential district to features energy conservation, last October.
Covering an area of 30,000 square metres, the new residential district is equipped with energy conservation facilities including a rain water recycling system and solar energy applications. It is able to save 5,400 cubic meters of water, and 5,000 kWh of lighting electricity annually, said the district's designer.
"It must be quite convenient and comfortable living in such a place, and things around are really wonderful to reuse the energies from the rain and the sun," said a Beijing resident, "but the cost is supposed to be very expensive."
The automatic system to store rain water to irrigate grass fields in the district costs as much as 2.4 million yuan (US$289,000), according to a newspaper report.
The Ministry of Construction approved a similar residential district that features energy conservation in Chengdu, the capital city of southwestern China's Sichuan Province last month - the first one in the province.
The investment for building energy conservation programmes currently comes from the government's investment and the issuance of treasury bonds, according to an official in charge of building energy conservation from the Ministry of Construction.
Industry insiders suggest establishing a building energy conservation fund to back the financing.
Energy conservation in building is now high on the government's agenda amid the robust growth of China's housing industry over the past period of more than a decade.
Statistics from the Ministry of Construction show China's housing industry has experienced an annual increase of more than 1 billion square meters in new residential buildings since the 1990s.
Housing construction currently occupies 30 percent of an average city's total land use, and energy consumption accounts for 20 percent of the country's total energy consumption in all trades, according to official statistics.
For the time being, major setbacks hampering the building energy conservation lie in the inadequate regulations to raise public awareness of energy conservation, said experts.
An official in charge of building energy conservation from the Ministry of Construction, appealed the improvement of the regulations to serve as an appropriate incentive to promote the energy conservation in building construction.
Under the current regulations, individual residents and the estate developers do not feel direct impact from energy conservation.
"When a real estate developer pools heavy investments into the energy conservation facilities in his houses, he just doesn't benefit a bit - there is neither a house price hike nor government allowances for doing so," said the official.
He is full of expectation of the coming renewable energy law to promote the utilization of new energies in major energy-consuming industries including construction.
The favourable policies and economic measures stated in the draft law are expected to create a link between the implementation of energy conservation and the personal interests of people involved, "so it will work as an effective impetus to energy saving," said the official.
"But it is only supposed to partially solve the problem," he added, "more efforts are to be continued."
(China Daily February 23, 2005)