Findings from a new report show setting stronger energy efficiency standards could bring huge reductions for energy costs and carbon emissions by 2050.
Energy standards in Australia’s National Construction Code are in urgent need of updates if new buildings will be fit for a zero carbon future.
Findings from the Built to Perform report by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia estimates stronger energy standards could shave $35 billion from energy bills and network costs, and bring at least 78 million tonnes of cumulative emissions savings by 2050.
When it comes to energy efficiency, Australia does well but has room for improvement. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranked Australia poorly in terms of industrial and transport energy efficiency when compared to other developed and developing countries.
According to the ASBEC and ClimateWorks report, implementing stronger standards in the 2022 building codes update would help boost this rating and “reduce stress on the electricity network, bring energy bill savings and support a least-cost pathway to a zero carbon built environment”.
More stringent standards would also support Australia’s transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2050, and help it meet its Paris Climate Agreement commitments by 2030.
Sector by sector
Some sectors have already taken action to achieve better energy efficiency outcomes.
“The building sector is very well placed to deliver on those objectives at very minimal costs with technology that exists right now,” said ASBEC Executive Director Suzanne Toumbourou.
Australia’s property sector has also performed well against the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark for the past several years.
“What that shows is that, at the highest end, we have really demonstrated the capacity to deliver low-carbon, high-performance buildings,” Toumbourou added.
But on the whole, the residential sector’s energy efficiency improved by just 5 per cent in the past decade, while the commercial sector made gains of only 2 per cent in that time frame.
The proposed changes to the National Construction Code would target energy improvements in these two sectors, and create more consistent standards to avoid “ad hoc periodic updates”.
“If developers and manufacturers know how the code requirements will evolve over the next 15 years, this will provide the regulatory certainty industry needs to plan and invest in new technologies, delivering higher building energy performance at lower cost,” said Professor Tony Arnel, Chair of ASBEC’s Building Code Task Group and President of the Energy Efficiency Council.
The report makes three recommendations to achieve proposed changes to the National Construction Code.
The first is to commit to a ‘zero carbon ready’ building code by setting firm energy efficiency targets. The second is for the Building Ministers Forum and the COAG Energy Council to jointly task the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) with delivering a step change in the the energy requirements for residential buildings in the 2022 code, and incremental standard increases for non-residential buildings.
The third recommendation is for the COAG Energy Council and Building Ministers Forum to explore sustainability challenges and opportunities that might affect energy efficiency standards in the future. This includes health and safety requirements, demand management, ongoing maintainability, provision for electric vehicles and embodied emissions.
However, progress will continue to lag unless supported with additional resources and guidelines to put these measures into practice. The report states any changes must be backed by transparency during the planning and building approvals process, energy efficiency education and training for relevant professionals, and consumer awareness campaigns, as well as post-construction verification of energy performance.
Additional improvements could come from complementary measures, such as improving appliance energy standards, retrofitting existing buildings and driving faster decarbonisation of the electricity grid. Adding onsite solar and battery storage to new and existing buildings could further reduce net energy consumption.
“All the buildings being built today will still be operating in 2050, at a time when we will need to be at our near net zero emissions. Our building code needs to be zero carbon ready, ensuring that today’s new builds are prepared to operate in a zero carbon future,” Toumbourou said.
Further estimates show improved standards could reduce energy consumption of new buildings by 56 per cent by 2030, which would put Australia well on its way to improving energy efficiency and meeting its carbon emissions reduction goals.
You can read the full report and list of recommendations here.