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Government at last turns focus to energy productivity, and the plan looks good

COAG energy ministers in December 2015.

Increasing National Construction Code standards, expanding the Commercial Building Disclosure program and considering a national mandatory disclosure scheme for residential have been announced as key measures to reach Australia’s energy productivity improvement target of 40 per cent by 2030.

The COAG Energy Council’s National Energy Productivity Plan 2015-2030, a framework for how Australia can work towards its 40 per cent energy productivity goal, details 34 measures the states and Commonwealth will implement to better coordinate “energy efficiency, energy market reform and climate policy”.

“By improving Australia’s energy productivity, we can boost our competitiveness, creating investment and jobs; help consumers manage their energy costs to reduce bills; and reduce our carbon emissions – delivering at least one quarter of Australia’s emission reductions to meet our international commitments to 2030,” federal Energy Minister and COAG chair Josh Frydenberg said.

The NEPP was welcomed by the Energy Efficiency Council.

“This plan shows that ministers around the country realise that energy efficiency will be critical to boost productivity, lower household bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” EEC president Tony Arnel said.

EEC head of policy Rob Murray-Leach, however, warned that the plan lacked detail.

“The National Energy Productivity Plan is a starting place, rather than a destination,” he said. “It doesn’t announce new funded actions, but it does identify key areas where policies need to be developed. We look forward to working with governments as they develop these policies.”

Advancing the NCC

The NEPP says increases to the National Construction Code’s energy efficiency requirements will be implemented in the 2019 NCC update.

It notes that energy efficiency requirements in both residential and commercial building codes are “out of date with recent technologies”.

“The council will facilitate engagement with the Australian Building Codes Board and Building Ministers Forum to consider changes to the code so as to achieve better energy efficiency outcomes for Australia’s buildings within the next cycle of revision of the National Construction Code, to be complete by 2019,” the plan states.

A complementary program will be led by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, which is “developing an industry-led vision for improving the energy performance requirements for both residential and commercial buildings in the NCC”.

ASBEC executive officer Suzanne Toumbourou told The Fifth Estate the NEPP was a momentous step-change for a government that had previously lacked vision in the space.

“It looks like they’ve been listening, and it’s nice to see states have signed up too,” Ms Toumbourou said.

The industry-led project ASBEC is working on, in conjunction with ClimateWorks, hopes to set an agreed trajectory for energy efficiency improvement for commercial and residential buildings, which would be “tightened automatically”, Ms Toumbourou said, rather than the current process of committing and recommitting to energy efficiency provisions every three years when the code is updated.

It is hoped that this will “provide certainty, foster innovation and deliver the benefits of rapidly improving energy technology and design approaches for Australia”.

“If the next code upgrade in 2019 fails to include improved energy efficiency requirements, buildings will be using the 2010 minimum standard until 2021,” the ASBEC Building Energy Performance Standards Project warns.

“Delay in upgrading the minimum standard would lock in poor performing building stock for many decades, resulting in unnecessarily high expenditure on energy, unproductive working environments for businesses and lost opportunities for low-cost emissions reductions.”

The project currently has a working group of industry members and academic bodies, which include:

  • Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association
  • Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating
  • Building Products Innovation Council
  • Chartered Institute of Building
  • CRC for Low Carbon Living
  • Energy Efficiency Council
  • Facility Management Association of Australia
  • Green Building Council of Australia
  • Insulation Australasia
  • Property Council of Australia
  • SA Department of State Development
  • Standards Australia
  • University of Melbourne

Ms Toumbourou said the project would kick into action early next year, and that more members may join.

“Ultimately we’re recognising there has been a missed opportunity in the current 2016 code… We should not miss that opportunity again going forward,” she said.

Key issues to be worked out by the group include how much higher standards should be, what other improvements could be made and what supporting analysis may be required.

The group has written to the Australian Building Codes Board to seek implementation of its vision.

Improving compliance

Pointing to the dire findings of the National Energy Efficient Buildings Project report, released late last year, the NEPP also notes that compliance with energy performance requirements in the building code will need to be improved.

“To achieve this, the council will continue to support the National Energy Efficiency Building Project.

“The NEEBP will expand existing local government pilot schemes to further trial compliance auditing and document control tools through building regulation professionals nationally.”

The NEPP states that consumer protection will “be central to related work considering new disruptive technologies and subsequent new services”.

Phase 2 of the National Energy Efficiency Building Project, focusing on residential construction, is due for release imminently.

Expansion of CBD program

Another measure in the plan is to “expand commercial building ratings and disclosure”.

The NEPP notes that ACIL Allen’s review of the Commercial Building Disclosure program, which was provided to the federal government earlier this year, had identified benefits of mandatory disclosure for both tenants and building owners.

Industry sources say there is considerable momentum for the CBD program be extended to commercial office space of 1000 square metres or more (the threshold is currently 2000 sq m).

“The Commonwealth intends to respond to this review early in 2016,” the NEPP states.

In 2014 there had also been plans to expand the CBD program to other building types, including retail, however a government spokeswoman last year told The Fifth Estate the plans had been shelved. However, there are moves to get this “Phase 2” back on the agenda.

“The council will work with NABERS to consider options to extend the development and use of these ratings schemes in other types of large buildings, such as hotels, hospitals and aged care facilities, schools and universities, data centres, apartment buildings, and retail facilities,” the NEPP states. “A plan for the future development of NABERS rating schemes will be prepared for council consideration in 2016.”

Targeting the mid-tier

The NEPP also points to addressing the barriers of upgrading mid-tier office space, saying COAG will “consider options for the development in partnership with industry” of innovative approaches such as targeted promotion, tool development and financing mechanisms like Environmental Upgrade Agreements.

COAG will also look at development and promotion of leasing tools, like green lease schedules, and investigate standards and options for the promotion of best practice in the design, commissioning and maintenance of HVAC&R systems.

National mandatory disclosure for resi?

Residential energy ratings and a potential national disclosure program are also identified as a key measure in the plan.

The plan points to “a lack of energy performance information on residential buildings available for home buyers and renters”.

“Many homeowners and tenants are choosing homes to buy or rent or are renovating their homes without adequate information about their expected energy performance, comfort and likely future energy costs,” the plan states.

“Work will be undertaken by the end of 2016 to consider a range of different tools to improve information for residential buildings, including options for implementing a national approach to residential building energy ratings and disclosure.”

Consideration will also be given to new technology such as distributed generation, storage and advanced metering.

The plan “will examine and build upon Victoria’s Residential Efficiency Scorecard and research by the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, as well as learning from existing programs such as in the ACT”.

The Victorian government announced earlier this year that it was considering mandatory disclosure and standards for residential.

Ms Toumbourou told The Fifth Estate the Victorian government was leading on improving building efficiency.

“It’s really putting its money where its mouth is,” she said.

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