www.freeimage.com/Robert Linder

Upgrading the energy and water efficiency of Victoria’s building stock could stimulate $10 billion of investment and create up to 13,000 jobs, a new report from Environment Victoria has found.

According to Six Steps to Efficiency Leadership, climate change means that towns and cities are facing “an urgent task to reduce emissions to zero and transition to renewable energy as soon as possible”.

Environment Victoria notes that one way of doing this would be to improve the efficiency of buildings, as “nearly 70 per cent of Victoria’s emissions come from the stationary energy sector – the electricity and gas [used in] homes, businesses and industry”.

It adds: “Over 80 per cent of Victoria’s electricity is generated by burning brown coal, while Victorian households use far more gas than households in other states, mainly due to winter heating.”

Highlighting that the Andrews Government has been increasingly looking at addressing inefficiencies, for example, through the Saving Energy, Growing Jobs statement and increasing Victoria Energy Efficiency Targets to 2020, it warns that “after four years of inaction and backward steps under Coalition governments at the state and federal level, there is no more time to waste”.

“It is vital that the Victorian government not only sets out an ambitious agenda, but also a clear and resourced path for implementation.”

To help the government do this, Environment Victoria has identified six steps that could be taken to improve building efficiency in the area and create a “win-win-win” scenario for local people, the economy and the environment.

Recommendations

The six steps are:

  1. Improve standards for residential buildings

This could be done by:

  • creating the Victorian Residential Efficiency Scorecard (promised by the government) to allow homeowners to see how their house performs and what that means for running costs
  • require homeowners to disclose their home’s efficiency rating at point of sale (such as is the case in ACT)
  • setting up minimum standards at point of lease by 2017
  • setting a goal of zero net emissions and water-efficient new buildings by 2020
  • improving compliance regimes
  1. Facilitate accessible and affordable finance

To help improve uptake efficiency upgrades, the report suggests government:

  • expand the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target scheme to cover more activities (such as ceiling insulation)
  • adopt project-based methodologies to support large-scale whole-house retrofits
  • broaden participation by low-income households
  • extend environmental upgrade agreements to residential buildings
  1. Create a culture of efficiency and provide relevant information

The report states that while energy literacy is “generally low”, investments in retrofits will also remain low. It therefore suggests government engage in a mass public education push on the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades, complemented with accessible local services to provide property owners with technical advice or financial assistance.

  1. Deliver targeted programs to those most in need

To ensure lower-income householders aren’t left behind, the report states that government should:

  • build on its soon-to-close Victoria Low-Income Energy Efficiency Program and fund a similar program encompassing behaviour change, building upgrade and appliance replacement assistance
  • explore opportunities with energy retailers to co-finance efficiency and energy retrofits for customers experiencing hardship (similar to Darebin’s Solar $aver scheme)
  • invest in retrofit skills training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged workers
  1. Upgrade government buildings

Leading by example is important to showcasing the benefits of energy efficiency, Environment Victoria states, suggesting that it should therefore

  • reinstate and strengthen the Greener Government Buildings program and provide information and support to assist local government and universities to access the framework
  • set a goal to upgrade all public housing stock by 2025
  1. Drive improvements in non-residential buildings

Finally, the report recommends that, as nearly half of Australia’s total emissions come from buildings, steps should also be taken to improve commercial stock, in particular smaller mid-tier office and retail buildings that “have received less attention”.

This could be done by:

  • developing a 10-year plan for upgrading mid-tier offices and retail buildings
  • reinstating a mandatory efficiency scheme covering large energy and water users

It concludes that upgrading Victoria’s housing stock to meet an average 5 star NatHERS rating and 100 litre/person/day standard by 2025 would stimulate nearly $10 billion of investment, supporting up to 13,000 jobs (gross) over 10 years and 8500 ongoing jobs.

Victorian homes are “little more than glorified tents”

Releasing the report today, Environment Victoria chief executive Mark Wakeham said: “Victorian homes built before 2005 average less than two [NatHERS] stars in terms of energy performance, making them little more than glorified tents. There’s huge room for improvement. Our research has found an average Victorian household could save around $1000 a year from investing in efficiency.”

He added: “Under the previous Labor government, Victoria was the first state to introduce a mandatory energy efficiency target and a 5 Star standard for homes. But four years of inaction and backward steps under the Coalition have left Victoria lagging behind the rest of the world.

“The current Labor government has promised to release an efficiency and productivity strategy. It’s critical this strategy outlines a bold and ambitious agenda for Victoria to reclaim its leadership status.”

Touching on the fact that climate change will bring “hotter summers and more extreme heatwaves,” Mr Wakeham said that the task of upgrading Victoria’s “leaky, inefficient, substandard housing” was now more urgent than ever.

He concluded: “We need targeted investment in the homes of Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens, including significant investment in public housing, to protect people against rising bills and the health impacts of extreme weather events like heatwaves.

“And we deserve better building standards, including basic minimum rental standards, to ensure renters are not missing out on the benefits of more comfortable and affordable homes.”