Apartments at Green Square, Sydney

The COAG Energy Council has agreed to fund development of a NABERS tool for residential apartments, meaning Australia’s fastest-growing property sector is finally on track to start slashing carbon emissions and reducing energy bills.

The development of the tool is being jointly funded by state and federal governments, which have contributed $400,000, with a pilot version expected to be released in 2017. The project is part of the National Energy Productivity Plan’s 2030 targets to achieve a 40 per cent increase in energy productivity.

The long-awaited tool will measure the energy performance of central services, including heating, ventilation and airconditioning systems, pool pumps, lighting for common areas and hot water systems. Apartment buildings will be scored from one star to six stars.

It is also expected a NABERS Water tool will be developed to help occupants assess and improve their water performance.

Industry stakeholders welcomed the new tool, which is hoped will lead to energy performance improvements.

Luke Menzel, chief executive of the Energy Efficiency Council, said NABERS had provided a “common language” for the office sector and made energy efficiency tangible for both owners and tenants.

“As a result, energy efficiency is now understood as more than just a cost saving strategy; it’s a way to improve amenity, occupant health and lease-ability, which has had a huge impact,” Mr Menzel said.

“NABERS Energy for apartment buildings has the potential to deliver those same benefits to the growing number of Australians that rent and own apartments, if it is supported by sensible, well targeted policies and programs.”

The City of Sydney has been advocating for the expansion of the NABERS program for some time.

“With around 1900 apartment buildings in our city, home to around three-quarters of our residents, the City has been a strong advocate for an apartment rating tool to measure and improve environmental performance,” City of Sydney chief executive Monica Barone said.

“We estimate 80 per cent of Sydneysiders will live in apartments by 2030 and these residents will demand higher environmental standards for their apartment buildings.”

Ms Barone said the new national rating tool was a key action in the council’s Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan, which was developed using data from the city’s Smart Green Apartments program.

She said an apartment rating tool would create a market incentive for more efficient and sustainable apartment buildings.

“It will help reduce operational costs, help owners and tenants save on energy and water bills, and help our great city become more sustainable.”

Currently, more than 600 of the City’s apartment buildings are six storeys and above. These will be among the first to benefit from the new NABERS tool, Ms Barone said.

Property Council chief executive Ken Morrison said the property sector was a “strong advocate” for more ambitious sustainability policies in the residential sector.

“This is a good initiative and reflects the property industry’s willingness to work with government on sensible and cost-effective measures which reduce emissions,” Mr Morrison said.

“Rating tools like this one provide better information for everyone. This is a practical measure that will reduce emissions and costs for landlords and tenants.”

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors welcomed the move, though said the International Property Measurement Standard should be used as the basis for the new rating system.

“The inclusion of IPMS in the rating system means, for the first time, that residential properties anywhere in the world could be measured and rated to the gold-standard in energy efficiency,” RICS corporate affairs manager Robert Hardie said.

NABERS has proven extremely effective in stimulating energy efficiency in the commercial buildings sector. Figures from the NSW Office and Environment and Heritage, which administers the scheme, show the office sector is now saving more than $100 million a year in power bills compared to 2010 levels.

This has resulted in annual CO2 emissions savings of more than 635,000 tons, equivalent to taking more than 160,000 cars off the road.

“We are proud of the important role NABERS has played in helping the Australian commercial building sector become a world leader in sustainability,” NABERS national program manager Carlos Flores said.

“The built environment contributes almost a quarter of Australia’s emissions, and residential apartments represent the fastest growing market in the built environment. We know bringing large-scale sustainability change to the apartment sector will be a major challenge, but one that government and industry can tackle if we work together.”

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