The international energy transition

The Mandarin term for a passive house is 'bèidòng fáng'. And how is dena involved?

China's cities are suffocating in smog, but at the same time an increasing number of people are flocking to the urban centres. It is high time for a paradigm shift in urban development: at over 30 construction sites, Chinese planners, architects, and construction workers become acquainted with German standards for energy-efficient building. dena experts impart know-how, monitor the quality of planning and construction work, and promote collaborations between companies from both countries. A visit to Jinan, the capital of Shandong province.

It is warm on this Thursday in June in Jinan, a metropolis south of Beijing with a population of six million. Stefan Schirmer, who has been an expert for energy-efficient buildings and quality assurance at dena since 2007, and his colleague Yu Chuhai view the construction site of one of the over 30 efficient house pilot projects in China with a few dozen interested specialists. It is not rare for a hundred participants show up to such events.


Today, official representatives from the Shandong Provincial Government, employees of the Chinese construction authority CSTC (Center of Science and Technology of Construction), property developers, and planners from other cities and provinces, as well as representatives from German and Chinese companies are also present. The head of the architectural college of Jinan, Mr Han, is also present.

On the premises of his university, a model home is being constructed from which all students will learn from in future. Stefan Schirmer explains the key aspects of energy-efficient construction, and his German-Chinese architect colleague provides assistance with detailed knowledge and interpreting. To ensure that all attendees are able to understand her properly, she uses a megaphone.

How to make efficient houses popular in China

“Even in Germany, it took a fair bit of time before we had a good energy efficiency standard.”

Stefan Schirmer, dena

Tours of the construction site take place on each of the four days on which the German dena experts supervise the construction of the model house in Jinan. On this last workshop day, Stefan Schirmer and Yu Chuai once again devote a particular amount of time to precisely explaining all the details. 'The imparting of know-how is one of dena's central missions', says the passive house expert. 'The knowledge transfer is paramount.' This is because Schirmer and the dena team are attempting to increase the popularity of energy-efficient buildings and in particular efficient houses in China. By doing so, they are making an important contribution to advancing the energy transition bit by bit in this global economic power.

This is an urgent issue: in two years, China will build as much new living space as Germany has in total. The buildings account for around 40 percent of the energy requirements in the country — for heating in the north and cooling in the south. Energy efficiency can contribute significantly to making the air in the cities cleaner and to saving resources.

'Naturally, this will be a long process', says Stefan Schirmer. Improvements will only become noticeable gradually. 'Even in Germany, it took a fair bit of time before a good energy efficiency standard was developed.' For example, the issue of thermal insulation was not particularly high on the list of priorities for architects for a long time, he says, speaking from experience. And even when the scientific institutes began developing ideas over 25 years ago, it still took a fair bit of time before a breakthrough was achieved.

Photo taken at conclusion of the construction workshop in the pilot project Sino-German Energy-Efficient Buildings 'Shandong Urban Construction Vocational College Laboratory Building' Picture: @dena/picture alliance/WANG Feng

dena has been working on this for almost 10 years

For almost 10 years now, dena has been working closely with Chinese authorities on behalf of German ministries, and many Chinese planners and architects are now interested in German expertise on energy-efficient buildings. German expertise, as Stefan Schirmer learns on site, is highly valued in China. 'During our tours of the model house construction site, our experts take advantage of valuable opportunities to share knowledge. Here, they become acquainted with technologies which will significantly influence the future of construction in China, says Xiaoling Zhang from the Chinese construction authority CSTC.

Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MoHURD): Founded in 1988, the ministry is responsible for housing, urban development, and infrastructure. Since 2006, it has worked together with dena in the German-Chinese working group for funding energy-efficient buildings. Apart from the ministries of both countries, dena, the Chinese construction authority Center of Science and Technology of Construction (CSTC), as well as the Chinese Society for Urban Studies (CSUS) are also involved in the endeavour.

Working together with the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MoHURD), dena has developed standards for energy efficiency in new buildings. 'We value the collaboration with the experts from dena', says Aixing Han, representative of the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. 'As a team, we make it possible to experience the construction of energy-efficient buildings in real life. With German standards, which we have applied to the climatic regions in China, we challenge the Chinese construction industry, and at the same time promote sustainable, efficient development on the market. The Chinese now even have a term for 'passive house': it is called a 'bèi dòng fáng' in Mandarin.

The language barrier is no obstacle in the collaborative efforts. Thanks to his two German-Chinese colleagues — in addition to the architect Yu Chuai, Mr Yang Zhang, the building services engineer, often also accompanies them on trips — mutual discussions are no problem. The two dena employees make a professional interpreter unnecessary, but even without them, Stefan Schirmer, who himself speaks a few phrases of Chinese, is now able to manage fairly well. At conferences, congresses, at appointments with the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, or with authorities such as the CSTC, English has now become the common language.

On the building site, there is a saying: a pencil is more useful than a dictionary

Things are very different on the construction site. Almost nobody speaks English here. Hence, the architect and quality inspector from Germany uses a pencil and sketchbook to make himself understood. But his experience helps, too. Using numbers and by pointing to materials, he explains to attentive colleagues what they need to pay attention to without using many words. In an efficient house, the correct ordering of layers is crucial. To illustrate this in an easily understandable manner, a corner has been left unfinished on the model house in Jinan. Here, visitors can view the cross-section of the façade, plaster, insulating material etc. all the way down to the foundation stone, allowing them to get a clear and precise picture of the layout of an efficient house. It also allows the construction workers of the pilot project to be trained on the college campus.

The dena team have now been working in Jinan for four whole days. The visit began with a conference at the start of the week. Representatives from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development were also present at the event. After an official lunch, it was time for the first tour on the model house construction site. Employees from German and Chinese companies for window construction, air   and water sealing, thermal insulation, and fastening technology were also present.

“German technology has an excellent reputation, but is often too expensive.”

Wen Linfeng, CSTC

dena brings together economic representatives from both countries. For example, German manufacturers can tap into a new market by supplying highly efficient building technology or building materials. However, the situation is different from that in Germany: 'German materials and German technology have an excellent reputation here. However, they are often too expensive', explains Wen Linfeng, deputy director of the CSTC. 'In order to be successful here, the companies will need to offer products that cost less without making any compromises on quality. This is more likely to succeed if German companies were to do their manufacturing in China.

Eco-Cities – 13 pilot projects for cleaner air

Smog over the city of Jinan

The duties of the total of 16 dena employees who are responsible for collaborations with China go beyond the field of energy-efficient buildings. The aspect of air pollution control and energy efficiency in industry are another main focus, as is the 'Eco-Cities' project. In this project, dena is searching for solutions to reducing CO2 emissions in 13 pilot cities, and for energy-efficient urban development methods. Because the central government is unable to solve the problem of environmental pollution on its own, dena is promoting improved energy efficiency standards in the provincial governments. Apart from policy consulting, the further development of standards and benchmarks are also part of its scope of activity. Pilot projects such as the one in Jinan are examples of this. dena's range of services is rounded off with strategic studies and the organisation of various events in China.

Do you have any questions?

Nicole Pillen

T: +49 (0)30 66 777 - 420
F: +49 (0)30 66 777 - 699

The dena experts have already made plans for their next trip in autumn. This time, the architects will be visiting China for two entire months. During this period, six buildings — ranging from high-rise buildings to schools — will be awaiting their final acceptance procedures. In October, a visit to the 'Housing Expo' in Beijing is on the agenda. The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development is organising the expo. During the event, dena and the CSTC  will be awarding the efficiency house certificates for the previously certified projects. Naturally, dena will also be organising additional construction workshops like the one in Jinan. During these events, the seasoned team of architects will once again be providing expertise on energy-efficient buildings during its construction site tours — and in doing so further driving forward the energy transition in China.