Stan Krpan

9 February 2012 – Sustainability Victoria will call tenders for the sale of its FirstRate5 residential thermal rating tool, but only private industry need apply, it seems.

Newly appointed chief executive officer of SV Stan Krpan on Wednesday said: “We believe owning and maintaining software is not in line with our future direction and FirstRate5 would be better maintained by private industry.

“This is an exciting opportunity for a potential new owner and for the industry in general,” he said.

But a leading expert in rating tools said that any rating tool that is used for statutory performance standards needs to be managed by government in order to access the data critical for its accuracy.

The tool is part of a suite of tools on the market to rate buildings underpinned by the NatHERS (Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme)

The move to sell the FirstRate5 tool comes as Victoria’s lead environmental agency continues to shift away from broad based transformational policies under the coalition government in Victoria to focus on waste management. It is understood this is to reflect the agency’s primary source of funding from a landfill levy.

A wide ranging review of the agency that has taken almost the entire term of the new government to date, has been concluded but its results not yet released. A spokeswoman for the minister for environment and climate change Ryan Smith recently told The Fifth Estate that the document was still with cabinet.

Mr Krpan said SV has owned and maintained FirstRate5 and its predecessor software for more than 20 years. The software has helped existing home owners and the building industry to improve the energy efficiency of Australian dwellings.

Mr Krpan said it was hoped a new owner would improve the software and provide a high level of service to new and existing licensees.

However, Bruce Taper, one of the developers of the NSW BASIX residential rating tool, said he believed a private owner of the tool would struggle to access the data required to provide accurate information such as accurate data sets of water and energy consumption from utilities.

Access to such data was particularly important for tools used to mandate and assess regulatory standards, he said.

“Yes the private sector can have a role in administering the tools but where government relies on those tools to meet regulatory standards then they need to be in the game,” Mr Taper said.

“The private sector can own the tool but the government needs to have some skin in the game, with servicing or furnishing those tools with the data sets that might only be with government departments.”

However, he said that the FirstRate tool had been “oversold” because it related to thermal performance of building fabric not the overall energy efficiency of a home.

“Everyone knows that a five star house with a black roof and no eaves is not energy efficient,” Mr Taper said.

“It still exists in BASIX and forms a discrete and important part of BASIX, but only a small part.”

Lightweight structures such as those built by leading architects tended to perform poorly under a FirstRate tool but were actually highly efficient homes.

Asked to explain the decision to sell FirstRate5, a spokesman for Mr Krpan said:  “The Victorian Government maintains that allowing software developers to own intellectual property in the software they create for the Victorian Government is important to encourage innovation and provide software developers the opportunity to benefit from the commercial exploitation of the software outside of the Victorian Government.”

The spokesman denied  Mr Krpan’s comments on the tender offer that the tool would be better maintained by private industry excluded government agencies such as the NSW Government-owned NABERS, which has significant experience managing rating tools.

“SV would not exclude the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (which owned of NABERS) from tendering as the process is designed to be fair and open in order to find the very best tenderer.”

The spokesman also said the quality of the tool would be protected.

“CSIRO will maintain ownership of the calculation engine that sits behind FirstRate5 so that a government agency will still provide all climate data and will ensure the software incorporates the best available data in the Australian context,” he said.

For tender details are at: www.tenders.vic.gov.au

For the  FirstRate5 update patch released 25 January, see the Sustainability Victoria website