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A testament to China's ambition to become a green power as well as an economic power: Guangzhou, a sub-provincial city located in southern China, now lays claim to the most energy efficient high-rise build ever constructed — the Pearl River Tower.

Green features include a rainwater collection system, which will use solar water to provide hot water for the building. Pearl River Tower is also the tallest Zero Energy Building (ZEB) in the entire world. ZEB buildings are designed to create more power than they pull from the grid — many are even able to sell excess energy to power companies.

Green energy experts say Pearl River Tower is also significant because it represents the first challenge of powering a large building with green energy.

Designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), a Chicago-based architecture firm, the tower's shape is optimized to take advantage of local solar and wind patterns. Pearl River is also the first building to incorporate wind turbines within the body of the building — turbines designed to operate at considerably lower wind speeds than other turbines. The turbines do more than generate electricity: The openings through which wind flows also help reduce overall wind load on the skyscraper.

The building's outer "skin" is equipped with photovoltaic panels that absorb and retain solar heat. However, cooling remains a bigger challenge than heating as well as a bigger expense, which is why Pearl River Tower is also designed to function as the largest radiant-cooled office building in the world, with raised floor ventilation, heat sinks and vertical vents.

Solar panels also supply power to window blinds that alternately open or close to maximize or to minimize solar heat. The walls, equipped with an 8-inch gap, trap solar heat entering through the windows, which then rises to heat exchangers on upper floors. All of these features allowed the designers to install a heating system that is 80 percent smaller in traditional skyscrapers.

A growing number of sustainability advocates both within and outside of China maintain that green construction must become an increasingly prominent feature within nation's burgeoning urban landscape. Within the next decade, 60 percent of China's population will live in cities, even as raising standards of living will require an additional 10 meters of living space for each individual.

Until recently, private companies have been provided with little incentive to develop sustainable real estate because of the threat of multiplying costs. More recently, though, major cities have evinced a greater willingness to promote sustainability by rejecting projects that fail to meet green standards.