Here are some basic facts about China and building energy efficiency. The first, from Berkeley Labs, comes from 2007, and estimates that China’s share of total energy going to heating, lighting and otherwise powering buildings was set to rise from 23 percent (compared to the official 19-percent figure for 2007) to nearly 30 percent in 2010.

The second, in a June report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), puts perspective on the pace of China’s building boom, which despite recent trouble signs and slowdowns has still been adding about 1.7 billion square meters (18.3 billion square feet) of new floor space per year over the past several years.

All that floor space may be energy efficient, or it may not be -- and the difference could spell promise or peril for China and the world in the struggle to contain energy demand in the world’s most populous nation. China’s government has pledged to spend $373 billion on efficiency and emissions controls between 2010 and 2015, with an overall goal of shaving energy per GDP by 16 percent over that time.

That spending is being targeted by companies across the globe, as well as by Chinese incumbents. The list of partners in the joint U.S.-Chinese CERC-Building Energy Efficiency consortium, a Department of Energy-backed partnership formed in 2009, gives a good sense of the players involved, with names like Honeywell, Dow Chemical and Saint-Gobain, as well as C3, the San Mateo, Calif.-based energy software startup founded by Siebel Systems billionaire Tom Siebel with former Bush administration cabinet members Condoleezza Rice and Spencer Abraham on its board.

Indeed, China’s massive efficiency buildout can spell opportunity for startups as well. Take SkyFoundry, the building energy analytics software startup that’s now analyzing energy use across more than 125 million square feet of U.S. real estate. Partner John Petze said in an interview last week that the Glen Allen, Va.-based company is now working with China’s Institute of Building Environment and Energy Efficiency, or IBEE.

IBEE, a branch of the China Academy of Building Research, does a lot of R&D and engineering work in energy efficiency, building physics, green building and intelligent buildings. But it’s also an important standards development organization in China, Petze said, with some 152 standards under its belt and 37 more under development.

SkyFoundry came on board with IBEE several months ago to evaluate some of its technology, and has now signed up the organization as a reseller partner in China, Petze said. While he wouldn’t talk about any specific projects, he said that IBEE could use SkyFoundry’s software in its work engineering other projects, as well as for internal standards development.

SkyFoundry differs from other building management startups like SCIenergy and Serious Energy (now defunct) that are building up software-as-a-service offerings for the marketplace. SkyFoundry, by contrast, licenses its software to partners like Activelogix, Advanced Power Controls, Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI) and others that use it for their own building systems controls, project engineering, efficiency services or other lines of business. 

Petze, who helped lead multi-protocol building management technology company Tridium to its 2005 acquisition by Honeywell, said that’s allowed the bootstrapped company to fund ongoing operations and expand into multiple partnerships with several major retailers, though he declined to name them. SkyFoundry is also working on a project with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and IBM, along with ESI and Honeywell’s Tridium, to test energy-saving technology in 50 of the federal government’s highest energy-consuming buildings.

SkySpark, the company’s software platform, utilizes up to 150 or more analytic functions to detect issues related to equipment operation and energy performance, and runs across multiple buildings on a single dashboard. The idea is to find energy waste and efficiency investment opportunity in places hidden from view, or at least hard to find, to the human eye, he said.

Just how the China partnership might move SkyFoundry’s technology into China’s market is hard to predict. Most of the company’s clients use the technology for active management of building portfolios, but Petze said that more and more energy consultants are using the technology as part of services like measurement and verification (M&V) work, or proving that one’s efficiency upgrade or initiative is delivering as promised.  

Together, China and the United States are responsible for about two-fifths of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, in a world where buildings use about 40 percent of the energy generated globally and generate nearly half the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu believes that could be cut by at least 30 percent through efficiency retrofits and better-designed new buildings -- and has set a long-term goal for 80 percent more efficient buildings. He's also named China's built environment as a key target of energy efficiency R&D and investment.

We're sure to see more examples of international partnership emerge on this front.