IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

6.4.14 Trade-offs between embodied energy and operating energy

The embodied energy in building materials needs to be considered along with operating energy in order to reduce total lifecycle energy use by buildings. The replacement of materials that require significant amounts of energy to produce (such as concrete and steel) with materials requiring small amounts of energy to produce (such as wood products) will reduce the amount of energy embodied in buildings. Whether this reduces energy use on a lifecycle basis, however, depends on the effect of materials choice on the energy requirements for heating and cooling over the lifetime of the building and whether the materials are recycled at the end of their life (Börjesson and Gustavsson, 2000; Lenzen and Treloar, 2002). For typical standards of building construction, the embodied energy is equivalent to only a few years of operating energy, although there are cases in which the embodied energy can be much higher (Lippke et al., 2004). Thus, over a 50-year time span, reducing the operating energy is normally more important than reducing the embodied energy. However, for traditional buildings in developing countries, the embodied energy can be large compared to the operating energy, as the latter is quite low.

In most circumstances, the choice that minimizes operating energy use also minimizes total lifecycle energy use. In some cases, the high embodied energy in high-performance building envelope elements (such as krypton-filled double- or triple-glazed windows) can be largely offset from savings in the embodied energy of heating and/or cooling equipment (Harvey, 2006, Chapter 3), so a truly holistic approach is needed in analysing the lifecycle energy use of buildings.