Friday, June 5, 2009

Supertower offers glimmer of hope in polluted Chinese city

Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou is being billed as a green beacon amid the pollution of China's construction boom

Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China
Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China. Artist's impression: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP 2009

You can see the carbon emissions rising by the day over the skyline of Guangzhou, where armies of construction workers are busy throwing up skyscrapers that will soon surpass anything in New York in terms of height and ­energy consumption.

It is the same story all over China where, despite the economic crisis, engineers are completing four more tower blocks every day – almost all fitted with air conditioning, heating, lighting and lifts that will run on coal-powered electricity.

The country is in the middle of the greatest building boom in human history. Six of the world's 10 tallest buildings completed last year were in China, including the 492-metre-tall Shanghai World Financial Centre. Even taller structures are on their way – such as the Shanghai Centre, 632 metres,  and at 600 metres, the Goldin Finance 117 in Tianjin.

But among the giants there is one that could hold out hope for a low-carbon future. The Pearl River Tower, now being erected in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong province, is being billed as the most energy efficient superskyscraper ever built.

With wind turbines, solar panels, ­sun-shields, smart lighting, water-cooled ceilings and state-of-the-art insulation, the 310-metre tower is designed to use half the energy of most buildings of its size and set a new global benchmark for self-sufficiency among the planet's high rises.

Engineers say the tower could even be enhanced to create surplus electricity if the local power firm relaxes its monopoly over energy generation.

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