31 March 2010 – public discussion paper on the federal government’s proposed framework for setting energy efficiency standards for buildings has been released for public consultation.

The discussion paper presents the National Building Energy Standard-Setting, Assessment and Rating Framework, which is part of the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency.

After analysis of public comments, The National Buildings Framework Subgroup, which prepared the discussion paper, will develop a final framework document for consideration by governments later in 2010.

According to the government, the framework is expected to drive significant improvement in the energy efficiency of new buildings by delivering national consistency in minimum standards and in the assessment and rating of environmental performance. It will apply to both new and existing building stock and to all classes of commercial and residential buildings.

The framework has three key elements:

  • development of a pathway for increasing the stringency of the energy efficiency standards for new buildings and major renovations
  • alignment of the measurement and reporting metrics and assessment and rating approaches
  • enhancement and co-ordination of governance of building energy assessments, ratings and standard setting.

It will also aim to address existing market failures related to energy efficiency. These include:

  • information barriers – where information for consumers is not available, difficult to collect or hard to interpret
  • split incentives – where the costs and benefits (and therefore motivation) of undertaking energy efficiency actions are borne by different individuals
  • bounded rationality – where discussions are complex (or perceived to be), individuals may make decisions that do not take into account all available information.

The paper emphasises that the Federal Government recognises that even if the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is implemented market failures will still exist. It says:

“Addressing these market failures through building energy efficiency measures is complementary to emission trading schemes, and is likely to reduce the overall carbon price, as energy efficiency is one of the most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Improving building standards will also assist with adaptation to a changing climate. Building standards have the potential to help ‘future proof’ Australian buildings to take into account expected future climate conditions, such as more frequent periods of extreme hot weather and severe storms and flooding events.”

Some of the areas most likely to attract comment include:

  • Coverage of different building classifications – because ratings schemes and the Building Code of Australia currently make a distinction between different types of buildings in both the residential and non-residential markets, finding a consistent approach to all buildings will be challenging. In addition ratings tools for non-residential only cover a sub set of building types whereas the framework will include all types including hospitals and schools.
  • The treatment of existing and new buildings – the framework does not address setting energy efficiency standards for existing buildings, only new building work. However, it does need to cover the assessment and rating of both new and existing buildings. One option raised in the paper is to have a standard rating scheme that can apply to all stages of a building’s life that can be easily understood by the public.
  • The inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and other sustainability measures – the framework only addresses energy efficiency, not other aspects that influence a building’s sustainability performance such as water use, indoor air quality and waste minimization. The question is posed – if the framework were to be expanded to include these other factors, how could it be done and in what timeframe?
  • Creating alignment between the different ratings tools- there are currently a range of ratings tools for both residential and commercial buildings. The framework is aiming for alignment of these where possible. This will be challenging and the paper presents a number of options for creating a common measurement metric including using annual greenhouse gas emissions or energy use per square metre for both residential and commercial buildings.

Other areas addressed in the paper are:

  • how to factor in renewable energy
  • accounting for climate variation
  • assessment system
  • funding
  • data collection

The full Discussion Paper can be downloaded here

Consultation forums will be held in each capital city to discuss the issues in the Discussion Paper. Submissions will close at COB Friday 7 May 2010.

Details for the forums and for submissions can be found here

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au