STR 2020
03 Buildings & Mobility
3.1Key trends
3.2Electric vehicles at a tipping point
3.3Technology is enabling the next generation of ultra-efficient buildings


3.1 Mobility, buildings and the wider built environment are a key challenge for sustainability

Transport and residential property together account for nearly 30% of global carbon emissions.

Figure 71: CO₂ emissions by economic sector, share of total
Figure 72: CO₂ emissions by the transport sector, share of total transport emissions
Buildings and built environments are crucial in fostering well-being
Figure 73: Share responding “yes” to questions about working in LEED-certified buildings
Figure 74: Relative risk of developing conditions as a result of living with little green space

Estimates above 1x indicate higher risk of developing a given psychiatric disorder for children living among little green space compared with children living with lots.

Spotlight topics

The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely disrupted patterns of mobility but long-term shifts are as yet unclear

The global aviation industry has collapsed, while people are making fewer shorter trips as they practise social distancing.

Figure 75: Global flights in March, 2017-20
Figure 76: Transport use, UK, March-April 2020

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Cities have been exploring new transport options. Will these changes persist?

Car use in China has returned to normal levels, but public-transport use has not. Milan is widening pavements and offering more cycling lanes to maintain social distancing. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced sweeping changes to mobility.

Figure 77: Subway passenger volumes, China, 2018-20

Seven-day moving average

Public transport must only be used when absolutely necessary – as a last resort. Many more Londoners must now walk or cycle. Everyone who can work from home must continue doing so for the foreseeable future. We must all spend more of our leisure time in our local areas to avoid unnecessary journeys. Londoners who can only get to work on rail must now walk or cycle from rail stations rather than using the tube or bus.

Sadiq Khan, May 2020

New cycle lanes in Madrid, May 2020

Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

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The consequences of the pandemic are likely to disrupt the economics of buildings
Figure 78: Decline in property values, US, since February 2020
Figure 79: Visits to different sorts of buildings, US, February-June 2020

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3.2 Electric vehicles at a tipping point

Before the pandemic, demand for electric vehicles was rapidly growing

Plug-in vehicle sales were especially strong in the United States in 2018 and 2019. In Norway, penetration of plug-in vehicles now exceeds 50%.

Figure 80: EV sales, US, 2011-19
Figure 81: Plug-in vehicle market share, four countries, 2012-19
In the past, declines in oil prices have led to higher sales of inefficient cars, such as SUVs

A study in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, co-authored by an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, found that a one-dollar increase in the oil price leads people to buy a car which is one-mile-per-gallon more efficient. This relationship is also suggested by the historical data.

Figure 82: Effect of $1 decline in oil price on consumers' preferences for fuel economy, US, by model specification
Figure 83: Relationship between oil price and SUV sales, 1986-2020

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This time, sales of electric vehicles are holding up much better than fossil-fuel cars

Electric car registrations continued to rise in the early part of the pandemic. The top two selling car models in the UK in April were electric. So far in 2020, electric car sales in Europe were 13% of the total, double the share last year.

Figure 84: UK electric car sales, 2018-March 2020
Figure 85: Europe car sales, by type, 2019-February 2020

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2020 was already looking like a turning point, with consumers having increasingly wide choice

Consumers already have a variety of electric vehicles to choose from, but between 2019 and 2021, the range of models is expected to double.

Figure 86: Plug-in vehicle sales, US, 2010-2020
Figure 87: Expected number of electric car models available in Europe in late 2019 and 2021
Electric vehicles are increasingly competitive with the internal combustion engine, with battery prices continuing to fall

Electricity is the most efficient way of powering vehicles. The price of lithium-ion batteries has collapsed. The combination of these two factors is making electric vehicles an increasingly attractive option for consumers.

Figure 88: Average prices for vehicles, by fuel, 2000-2018
Figure 89: Volume-weighted average lithium-ion pack price, 2010-19

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Electric vehicles are cheaper than fossil fuel cars in many countries

In the United States, it is cheaper to run an electric car than a fossil-fuel one, even in parts of the country where electricity is relatively expensive.

Figure 90: Cost of four years of ownership, UK, by car type, 2018

Including three years tax on company-car benefit

Figure 91: Annual fuel-costs of driving a typical gasoline vehicle and a typical BEV, US, 2018

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The infrastructure for electric mobility is taking shape

In Britain there are now more charging locations than petrol stations, while across the world there are nearly 900,000 public electric vehicle charging points.

Figure 92: Public electric vehicle charging connectors, global, 2011-19
Figure 93: Electric vehicle charging locations and fuel stations, UK, 2012-19

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Investment in new mobility technologies has risen fast

Investments in electrification and autonomous driving have taken off, while autotech transactions have risen sharply in recent years.

Figure 94: Number of autotech transactions by buyer group, 2014-18
Figure 95: Total autotech transaction value by sector, 2014-18

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Choices governments make in recovery packages will help accelerate, or slow the transition

We will exit this crisis, and people will no longer agree to breathing polluted air. You’ll see something that was already rising in our societies, people will come out and say ‘I don’t want to breathe this air . . . you have accepted the idea of shutting down everything to stop Covid, but now you are ready to let me go on breathing bad air.’

Emmanuel Macron

In many cities, air quality has improved during the pandemic
Figure 96: Average weekly concentration of NO₂, four cities, Feb-April 2020
Figure 97: Average daily NO₂ readings, UK, March-April 2020

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National and city governments have the opportunity to accelerate the switch to electric vehicles

In many countries, such as the US, state and city governments are leading the way.

Figure 98: Electric vehicle-related policies in selected regions

* Indicates that the policy is only implemented at a state/province/local level.
** Standards for chargers are a fundamental prerequisite for the development of EV supply equipment. All regions listed here have developed standards for chargers. Some (China, European Union, India) are mandating specific standards as a minimum requirement; others (Canada, Japan, United States) are not.

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Electric vehicles at a tipping point
Accelerating sustainability trends

Over half the world now lives in cities, and the pandemic is causing people to rethink where they live and how they prefer to move around. This has opened up new opportunities to rethink urban space to create safer spaces for walking and cycling.

So far there is little evidence that the economic crisis will reverse progress on electric vehicles. The transition will likely accelerate once the sector gets back on its feet.

Climate action

Shifting to 100% electric vehicles is a priority for climate action. An electric and pooled ride-hailing trip can reduce emissions by about 70% compared to the average private car trip today and the gap is growing as the power sector gets cleaner.

Many governments are considering “cash for clunker” programmes to help reboot the economy. It is critical that such policies provide support to electric vehicles rather than internal combustion engines, or progress could be delayed by years.

Radical partnerships

The community engagement and cooperation being developed during the pandemic can be repurposed in the recovery, e.g., for re-wilding our urban spaces. Electric vehicles and the supporting infrastructure can be a part of this urban transformation.

A wider public discussion is needed about the nature of our cities and the role of mobility. On the one hand, more people recognise the need for clean air and safer, greener urban spaces. On the other, it is likely that some will prefer to use cars over public transport while there is a risk of contracting COVID-19. Others will move further away from dense urban environments.


3.3 Technology is enabling the next generation of ultra-efficient buildings

The share of global emissions from buildings has been falling in recent years, but faster progress is needed

The energy intensity per square meter of the global buildings sector needs to improve on average by 30% by 2030 (compared to 2015) to be on track to meet global climate ambitions set forth in the Paris Agreement.

Figure 99: Global final energy use, buildings sector, global, 2000-2030
There is progress over time in making buildings more energy-efficient

A cooling degree day (CDD) is a measurement designed to quantify the demand for energy needed to cool buildings. Heating and air-conditioning systems have been getting more efficient, and new standards are coming into force in 2023.

Figure 100: Demand for building cooling, Europe, 1950-2018
Figure 101: Performance standards for central residential air-conditioning, 1992-2023

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More consumers are able to manage their energy consumption more effectively

Annual investment in smart-grid technologies is rising fast. However, even within the US, some states have much higher adoption of smart meters than others.

Figure 102: Spending on smart meters and smart grids, global, 2014-19
Figure 103: Top ten states/districts by smart-meter penetration, 2018

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Efficient lighting is now a mainstream technology
Figure 104: Lighting efficiency, by type, 1930-2020
Figure 105: Global lighting sales, by type, 2010-19

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The number of net-zero energy buildings is growing rapidly
Figure 106: Net-zero buildings, US and Canada, 2012-19
Building regulations are getting tougher
Figure 107: Floor space covered by benchmarking or disclosure requirements, US, 2009-20
Net-zero building materials are essential to limiting emissions from the sector

For new buildings, materials are the key to reducing emissions. Different materials have widely different climatic impacts.

Figure 108: CO₂ emissions from the building sector, by source, 2015-50
Figure 109: Direct CO₂ intensity of cement under different scenarios

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Digital technology is enabling better building management systems

Advanced building management systems are increasingly popular, especially in the US.

Figure 110: Upcoming investments in the next 12 months

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Better buildings also have a range of economic and social benefits

Buildings have extensive socio-economic impacts. In many cities houses have been getting smaller as land costs rise, with negative effects on welfare.

Figure 111: The benefits of sustainable buildings
Figure 112: Top social reasons for building green

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Technology is driving the next generation of ultra-efficient buildings
Accelerating sustainability trends

Net-zero buildings should be a central focus of economic recovery plans. The technology required to enable net-zero carbon, smart buildings is ready for the mainstream. Plus, energy efficiency in the home and other smart-energy investments are among the most cost-effective and job-intensive available.

Our collective experience indoors during lockdown is a reminder of how this push for net-zero buildings is part of a wider conversation about quality of life and wellness at home, in the workplace and across our lived experience in cities.

Climate action

Regulators will need to adapt to new realities and needs. For instance, product material standards are needed for net-zero-carbon building materials. Policies will need to enable a growing role for wood in construction whilst tackling emissions from cement and concrete.

Radical partnerships

Technology is also enabling safer, more comfortable homes that help to connect people. Beyond the traditional buildings and construction sector, this provides opportunities for a wide variety of technology, equipment and service companies.