For the first time in NABERS’ 20-plus years, the government’s environmental benchmarking scheme is updating how it accounts for the emissions profile of grid electricity to reflect booming renewable penetration.
This will see harsher marks for gas usage compared to electricity use in buildings, as electrification starts to represent a lower emissions building thanks to the doubling of renewables in the grid since the 90s.
The changes were outlined at the NABERS + CBD Conference on Thursday, which was kicked off by Minister for Energy & Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor, who recently launched his technology investment roadmap that has been criticised for focusing on the role of gas in the decarbonisation challenge.
The event was moderated by comedian and presenter Craig Reucassel, who is currently spruiking a follow up to his highly influential ABC series War on Waste with a climate change equivalent called The Fight for Planet A: The Climate Challenge.
The decision to update the emissions factors in the NABERS tool reflects a sharp increase in renewables over the past few years, compared to a very slow increase during the 90s and early 2000s.
NABERS head of operations and standards Monique Alfris told the audience that stakeholders wanted to keep NABERS consistent so that they could compare their buildings performance year on year. She also said it wasn’t critical to upgrade the metrics when there was a negligible difference in the amount of renewables entering in the grid during that time.
Now that renewables have doubled from 10 per cent in the early nineties to around 20 per cent today, the emission factors in some states and territories need some tweaking to account for this progression.
This is just one of many upgrades to the government’s environmental benchmarking scheme. It’s also expanding into new sectors, with aged care and retirement living first on the list.
Only around 10 per cent of all buildings are using NABERS ratings, with another 20 per cent of building sectors covered by the scheme but not yet rated.
The program wants to be able to rate 80 per cent of all building types, with schools, warehouses, private hospitals, supermarkets and retail outlets and tenancies also on the list.
There are a number of other updates on the cards, including making it easy for buildings to be labelled net zero by leveraging NABERS ratings.
Waste, water and embodied carbon
The team is also working hard on waste. NABERS director Carlos Flores said we’ve got a long way to go to solve the waste crisis, and that the NABERS Waste tool had unearthed an uncomfortable reality about the amount of waste from buildings that’s actually getting recycled – only about a quarter.
Water is also a priority. Flores said it’s important not to lose momentum on water conservation now that the drought is (mostly) over.
Embodied energy is the other emerging challenge on the organisation’s horizon.
CBD program is a winning policy
In an early session, a group of familiar faces to the green building movement were given the opportunity to discuss their favourite policy levers used to decarbonise the built environment.
The mandatory Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) program, which requires information on a building’s energy performance to be disclosed when larger office spaces are sold or leased, featured on most of the panellist’s lists.
The program is considered instrumental in dropping the emissions profile of office buildings and the stats support this assertion, with energy use reduced by 35 per cent across the office market captured by the policy (over 1000 square metres) since it was introduced nine years ago.
It also proved particularly effective for buildings with low initial ratings to drive fast improvement.
Nearly 80 per cent of the market has now been rated, and 35 per cent of these buildings have a five star rating.
The review of the CBD program, which could see the mandatory disclosure program expanded to other energy intensive building types, has been stalled due to Covid. At the last count, independent reviewers recommended expanding it to hotels and office tenancies. Data centres and shopping centres were not put forward as suitable candidates for mandatory disclosure.
Improvements to the National Building Code is another way to drive change in building environmental performance, as are government showing leadership with policies to procure better preforming buildings, as Green Building Council of Australia CEO Davina Rooney explained.