Housing energy consumption accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the total energy use in this country. Energy-saving housing, which consumes about half the heating and electricity as ordinary housing, makes up only 5 per cent of the total 43 billion square metres of housing.

Of the 1.6 billion square metres of new housing built in China each year, only 3 per cent is energy-saving. It is estimated that by 2020, some 30 billion square metres of new housing will be built.

If all the houses can reach the energy-saving standard stipulated by the State, 335 million tons of coal could be saved annually as special materials for walls keep indoor temperature higher by several degrees. In the scorching summer, 80 million kilowatt hours of electricity could be saved through air-conditioners in energy-saving housing, which could keep the indoor temperature lower by several degrees. It is estimated that the amount of energy guzzled by housing will soon surpass the amount consumed by the country's manufacturing sector.

To maintain sustainable development, building of energy-saving housing has become an urgent task. The Ministry of Construction issued a notice on July 1 last year, requiring all new urban housing to be designed in accordance with energy-saving standards stipulated in relevant documents. Nevertheless, it is only a requirement, which most housing developers either ignore or defy. It is not because developers do not agree with the notion of energy-saving housing, but because they, as business people, put profits above everything.

The cost of energy-saving housing is usually 10 per cent higher than that of ordinary housing. As a result, the prices for such houses are more expensive. Many who purchase houses do not take the time to estimate how much money an energy-saving house would save in the long-run, instead focusing on how much initial investment is needed to pay for the dwelling. This is the major reason why house buyers prefer ordinary houses to energy-saving ones.

Developers, of course, do not want houses sitting idly without being purchased. The government, as a helmsman overseeing the overall situation of a country, must see far beyond the immediate interests of developers and house buyers. Sure, the prospect would be unthinkable if houses were built at the will of developers whose only concern was to cater to buyers' wishes for lower costs without having to consider energy saving. Blackouts happen quite often in many cities in summer when families use air-conditioners to keep cool. Lack of coal has been an obsession with many cities in winter when it is needed to fuel central heating systems. The situation will certainly deteriorate if concrete efforts are not in place to guarantee that all houses are built in an energy-saving manner and the existing houses are renovated into those that can save energy by a greater margin. It is high time that the central government mapped out policies, which may make it compulsory for developers to build no other houses than energy-saving ones. Specific rules must be in place to make sure that energy-saving construction materials be used in house building while policies should also allow developers to benefit in terms of taxes from constructing energy-saving houses. Preferential policies are also needed in terms of mortgage and interest rate to encourage buyers to purchase energy-saving houses.