Alan Pears: Building and energy policy – the push for effective regulation
4 October 2016
Alan Pears will today (Tuesday) at the All-Energy Conference launch an ebook celebrating two decades of his Pears Report, a column for ReNew Magazine on Australian energy and climate policy. Here is his overview on the past 20 years of building and energy policy.
Although Victoria, followed by some other states, introduced residential building energy regulations from 1991, the momentum for national regulation only grew after Prime Minister Howard’s 1997 pre-Kyoto commitment to work with the building industry to implement voluntary standards and, if that failed, introduce mandatory measures.
Not surprisingly, the building industry could not reach consensus on an approach. My column in issue 76 (2001) outlined the issues that had to be confronted after a formal agreement was reached in July 2000 to develop building energy regulations under the Building Code of Australia.
There were deep tensions: community support for regulation was strong, but many in the building industry were (and, even in 2016, remain) opposed to effective mandatory measures. This process led to a first round of national residential regulations in 2003 (issue 82, 2003; 87, 2004), despite many technical and process challenges. A second round of regulations was flagged in 2005 (issue 91) and implemented in late-2006.
A key feature of Australian building regulation is that the national building code (now called the National Construction Code) is only a model code: each state must adopt the code and is responsible for its administration. This leads to variations from state to state.
In 2002 (issue 81) the Victorian Government’s economic analysis of its proposed 5 Star regulations broke new ground. It used detailed economic modelling to consider the multiple benefits of building energy efficiency and this significantly increased the estimated economic bene ts of more stringent regulation. Unsurprisingly, in 2003 the Housing Industry Association called for delays in implementation (issue 82), and won some compromises (issue 85).
A serious tension in building policy is the gap between design intent and delivered performance. My column in issue 85 (2003) provided an example of the power of ratings based on real data. It explained how the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating Scheme (now NABERS) led to identification of serious energy waste in a building that was designed to be efficient and which had been assessed by energy auditors as being efficient.
Recognition of the gap between design intent and actual performance, as well as increasing consumer interest in information on building energy performance at time of sale or lease of existing buildings, drove action on energy disclosure (issue 90, 2005). The ACT introduced a scheme for homes in 1999 and CoAG’s Ministerial Council on Energy agreed to explore it in 2004. As is usual in energy efficiency, progress has been slow (issue 97, 2006).
December 2005 was the crunch time for building energy regulation (issue 95), when the Building Codes Board released its proposals for mandatory 5 Star home ratings and our first-ever energy regulations for non-residential buildings. Some industry groups even managed to convince three Commonwealth ministers to issue a press release criticising the proposals and declaring them to be disastrous for the building industry! Luckily, state governments stuck to their positions and the proposals were adopted, despite opposition from the Commonwealth and some industry groups.
In issue 95, I also questioned the view that high-rise buildings were necessarily energy inefficient. Historically, this had been the case but, with appropriate regulation and good design, it did not have to continue to be.
One of the main arguments against building energy standards has been that they adversely impact on housing affordability. In issue 102 (2008) I argued that this was a flawed view of the situation.
The reality is that, even if standards do increase sticker prices of homes (which is far from proven), higher energy standards deliver many cost savings, including lower running costs, lower peak energy demand, improved resilience of performance and health benefits. In 2016 we are just beginning to consider these multiple benefits. Change is certainly slow!
In issue 115 (2011) I discussed the introduction of the next round of national building energy regulations, which meant homes in most states would have to meet a 6 Star rating instead of the previous 5 Star level. I pointed out that the new regulations also introduced requirements for efficient lighting and water heating, which are typically provided by the builder. I had some reservations about the approach taken for hot water.
Recent research I discussed in issue 130 (2015) has opened up discussion about future building energy policy. The field results show that 6 Star homes are working well in winter, but have similar or higher cooling energy use in summer. I looked at a number of possible reasons for this, and some paths forward.
The Pears Report eCollection will be launched Tuesday 4 October.