Report calls for action on improved building energy standards

Household energy use and the nation's emissions be substantially reduced if standards were tightened in the Building Code, according to a new report supported by the CRC for Low Carbon Living.

The Bottom Line – household impacts of delaying improved energy requirements in the Building Code has been released by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia.

The report outlines how tightening energy efficiency standards in the Building Code could deliver Australians savings, and offset additional capital costs. Other benefits include the delivery of more comfortable homes, reduced stress on the electricity grid, and lowered emissions by around 10.8 million tonnes to 2050 – more than the amount emitted annually by Victoria’s Loy Yang B coal-fired power station.

The financial and emissions savings could come from simple energy efficiency improvements such as air tightness, ceiling fans, and roof insulation. The houses built in coming years will be in use for decades, well beyond 2050 when Australia will need to be near net zero emissions. Buildings account for almost a quarter of national emissions, and more than half of electricity use.

With half a million homes projected to be built between 2019 and 2022, delaying improved energy standards by just three years would lock in an estimated $1.1 billion in unnecessary household energy bills, and 3 million tonnes of additional emissions by 2050. Looking further ahead, the benefits of improved building codes will add up fast. An estimated 58 per cent of Australia’s expected building stock in 2050 will be built after 2019.

With buildings accounting for almost a quarter of national emissions and more than half of national electricity consumption, this makes the Code an indispensable policy tool to transition to zero emissions in line with Australia’s commitments under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

"At a time when many families are struggling to cope with rising living costs, low standards for energy efficiency mean higher bills for Australian households. Low income households, who spend a higher proportion of their income on energy bills, stand to benefit the most,” said Suzanne Toumbourou, ASBEC’s Executive Director.

“In total, the proposed changes could save an estimated $1.2 billion to 2050 through avoided and deferred network investments," said Tony Arnel, President of the Energy Efficiency Council and Chair of ASBEC’s National Construction Code Working Group. “Low energy homes put less stress on the electricity grid. If just one household cuts their peak demand by one kilowatt (kW) through good design – the power used to run a small oil heater – this would save almost $1,000 in electricity system infrastructure, reducing electricity prices for everyone.”

ClimateWorks Program Manager, Eli Court said improving Australia’s built environment provides some of the most ‘shovel-ready’ opportunities to meet the Paris Climate Change Agreement obligations.

"If we miss this opportunity, other sectors of Australia’s economy will need to cut emissions more. That may not be as fast or cost-effective, making Australia’s emissions reduction task more expensive overall," said Court.

“With the threat of 50 degree days in Sydney and Melbourne, we need to consider whether our homes are ready to provide safe indoor temperatures. Air conditioning may not be enough if our homes are not built to strong energy standards,” said Toumbourou.

This report presents the preliminary results of a broader project that quantifies the opportunities of establishing a clear, consistent and ambitious long-term plan for the Code energy requirements.

The results show:

  • There are immediate and cost-effective opportunities to improve energy efficiency requirements in the Code. Reducing air leakage is a major opportunity for most building types assessed, along with ceiling fans and roof insulation in some cases. Across a range of climate zones and building types, these measures could individually deliver energy bill savings up to $150 per year.

  • Combined, cost-effective measures could reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling by up to 51 per cent across a range of housing types and climates. This is equivalent to between 1 and 2.5 stars on the NatHERS scheme. In most jurisdictions, implementing these improvements would mean setting minimum requirements at the equivalent of 7 star NatHERS or higher.

  • Implementing these opportunities across projected new buildings and renovations could deliver an estimated 10.8 million tonnes of cumulative emissions reductions to 2050, approximately equivalent to the annual emissions of the Loy Yang B coal power station and mine.

  • Just three years delay could lock in an estimated $1.1 billion in wasted energy bills from these homes out to 2050, and 3 million tonnes of additional emissions.

  • A high level assessment of rooftop solar PV indicates that it is now more financially attractive than most of the efficiency opportunities assessed, although it does not deliver a range of other benefits provided by energy efficiency.

The report was produced with the support of the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, the RACV and building industry and government partners. The full report will be released in June 2018.

The report, The Bottom Line – household impacts of delaying improved energy requirements in the Building Code, is available here.

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