There’s little hope residential minimum energy standards can be increased in the National Construction Code update set for 2019, according to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.
This means the next chance to increase Australia’s already comparatively low standards will be 2022 at the earliest, an outcome sure to disappoint many working in building sustainability.
Energy minimum standards have not been increased for commercial or residential buildings since 2010, and the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) only has plans to increase stringency in commercial buildings in 2019 (the extent to which has not been decided).
ASBEC has been working with ClimateWorks on a Building Code Energy Performance Trajectory project, which will provide an industry-led evidence base to adopt long-term energy stringency targets, as well as a significant increase in energy performance standards for commercial buildings in 2019.
The last time we wrote about the project, there was some hope amongst the green building industry that governments could be swayed to put residential efficiency improvements on the cards for 2019 too.
- See News from the front desk: Issue No 328 – Why it’s critical we keep pushing for higher minimum standards
While our source at the time said there was until May 2018 to convince COAG to put resi back on the table, ASBEC executive director Suzanne Toumbourou said the council had come to the conclusion that there was little chance of it happening, and were now currently “focused on meaningful improvements” in the commercial sector.
“The time for embedding [energy stringency improvements] into the ABCB’s work plan has passed in regards to residential,” she told The Fifth Estate.
Toumbourou said while it would be great to be able to raise standards as soon as possible, it was crucial to do it in a meaningful and sustainable way. At the moment, the support to do that is not there.
ABCB general manager Neil Savery told The Fifth Estate there were a number of reasons why residential standards weren’t set to be increased in 2019.
First, there hasn’t been the business case conducted for improvements to residential, as has been done for the commercial sector by pitt&sherry.
- See News from the front desk: Issue No 304 – On why the energy efficiency industry is poised for action on minimum standards
He said the federal Department of the Environment and Energy was currently engaged in this work.
Second, there was a larger issue of widespread non-compliance and non-conformance, as we’ve written about extensively.
Savery said building ministers had agreed there was little point of increasing minimum standards if current standards weren’t even being met.
“In our view you get a similar benefit in getting everyone to [a] six star [standard].”
He said there was important work being undertaken to deal with the issue of non-compliance with energy performance standards in the industry.
“When you change cultural practices, then you’re going to get compliance there.”
Once compliance issues were sorted then there could be confidence that increases to minimum standards would be broadly met, he said.
The third element was an issue with condensation, particularly in colder climates, that could be a side-effect of increased energy performance standards.
“Those are the main things in not proceeding with a stringency increase.”
ClimateWorks implementation manager Eli Court, who is working on the Building Code Energy Performance Trajectory project, said while a business case for residential has not been completed, there would be many in the industry that say there is enough prima facie evidence to suggest that going to seven or even eight star NatHERS is already cost-effective and achievable.
He said there were also “numerous developments demonstrating cost-effectiveness”.
And it seems many state governments agree, with South Australia, the ACT and Victoria all looking at increasing their residential standards in the face of ABCB inaction.
Court is not sold on the non-compliance argument either.
“My view would be that non-compliance and under-compliance is not a reason not to look at appropriate stringency increases,” he told The Fifth Estate.
However, he did note that concerns about climate zones and condensation did need to be addressed.
End of the glass box? ASBEC and ClimateWorks project could spur significant change
It’s not all bad news, though.
Toumbourou said there could be “significant” stringency increases to commercial buildings in the 2019 NCC, and in the future “meaningful and ambitious reductions over the long term” for both commercial and resi.
This is partly why the focus is now going to the commercial sector, with the ASBEC and ClimateWorks project looking to provide industry-led evidence demonstrating feasibility and cost-effectiveness to ensure a big increase in standards, which could lead to the end of “glass box” commercial building designs, according to Court.
The project will then be working on an industry-led evidence base to support the adoption of long-term targets and forward trajectories to be included for resi and commercial from 2022.
Court said an issues paper to be released in July would look at what other jurisdictions around the world were doing, and go out for consultation to land on an appropriate target for Australia.
He pointed to an EU directive that meant buildings in Europe had to be “nearly zero energy” by the end of 2020, while leading US states were looking at a 2025-2030 timeframe.
“Nearly zero energy in 2025-2030 could make sense for Australia.”
Court said there was a “strong and broad” amount of support for the work in industry, even from many of the sectors that have traditionally been opposed to increased standards.
NCC working group members include:
- Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association
- Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating
- Australian Passive House Association
- Building Products Innovation Council
- Chartered Institute of Building
- CRC for Low Carbon Living
- Department of the Environment and Energy
- Energy Efficiency Council
- Facility Management Association of Australia
- Green Building Council of Australia
- Insulation Australasia
- Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand
- NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
- Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV)
- Property Council of Australia
- QLD Department of Housing and Public Works
- SA Department of State Development
- Standards Australia
- University of Melbourne
- Vinyl Council of Australia
Toumbourou said the CRC for Low Carbon Living helped hugely on the technical component of the work.
Court said “implementation and complementary measures” would also be looked at, such as training and education, having good tie in with rating tools and systems, good compliance pathways and good enforcement.
The cost of inaction
Another area that could be looked at is the cost of inaction. As buildings are long-term assets, Australia could be locking itself into a high-emissions built environment, which means we may need to implement higher cost emissions reduction projects elsewhere to meet our international obligations.
With buildings accounting for more than 50 per cent of the electricity draw on the grid, there’s also additional cost of network infrastructure to deal with this, not to mention peak demand. Add factors like health effects and climate resilience and the need to act becomes even clearer.
An issues paper will be put out on 11 July 2017, with an interim report set for November 2017, and a final report in March 2018.