Energy ministers support stronger building energy standards
Sustainability advocates are applauding the news that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Energy Council last week agreed to a Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings, a national plan that sets a trajectory towards zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings for Australia.
The Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings outlines a staged approach to strengthening the carbon and energy efficiency requirements of the National Construction Code (NCC), both for new and existing commercial and residential buildings. It seeks to inform the future activities of the Building Ministers’ Forum and the Australian Building Codes Board when developing and implementing updates to the NCC, and to inform further Energy Council activities around building policy measures.
The Trajectory calls for ‘substantial’ updates to energy efficiency provisions in the NCC in 2022 and 2025 before increasingly stringent requirements every three years to keep pace with better technology and changing energy prices. Modelling has found potential improvements under the proposed NCC 2022 could save residents $650 a year in hot and cold climates — including Canberra, Townsville and Darwin — and about $170 annually in more temperate areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Changes to commercial buildings could generate a net benefit of $25 billion by 2050.
The agreement follows sustained advocacy from a broad coalition of industry stakeholders. Consumer groups including the Australian Council of Social Service, CHOICE, the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Brotherhood of St Laurence have all called for better minimum standards for new and existing housing in the interests of healthier, safer and more affordable homes for all Australians.
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia have reacted particularly positively to the news, noting that the Trajectory aligns closely with their recent report ‘Built to Perform: An industry led pathway to a zero carbon ready building code’, which recommends a pathway for energy targets for subsequent updates to the NCC.
“The National Construction Code sets minimum standards for all new Australian buildings, so it is the best place to start to improve building energy performance,” said ASBEC Executive Director Suzanne Toumbourou. “By strengthening the National Construction Code we can ensure new buildings are ‘zero carbon ready’ to plug into a net zero emissions economy by 2050.
“In the midst of another stifling summer, this forward-thinking commitment is a breath of fresh air.”
ClimateWorks Project Manager Michael Li said the savings speak for themselves, with the Built to Perform report showing that stronger energy standards in the National Construction Code could reduce household energy bills by up to $900 each year, contributing to up to $29 billion in reduced energy bills and 78 million tonnes of cumulative emissions savings across the economy by 2050.
“Stronger energy standards in the code could also relieve pressure on Australia’s ageing energy infrastructure, cutting electricity network costs by up to $12.6 billion between now and 2050,” he said.
“These savings could be achieved through simple, cost-effective energy efficiency measures such as improved air tightness, double-glazed windows, increased insulation, outdoor shading, and more efficient air conditioners, hot water systems and lighting.”
Professor Tony Arnel, Chair of ASBEC’s Building Code Task Group and President of the Energy Efficiency Council, added that COAG Energy Council’s commitment to a forward pathway for energy requirements in the National Construction Code will provide certainty for the construction industry.
“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,” he said.
Finally, Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) Head of Public Affairs & Membership Jonathan Cartledge said the Trajectory is an excellent step towards realising the potential of the built environment to assist the transition to a low-emissions future.
“It is great to see governments joining industry to support more energy-efficient, sustainable buildings as a way to cut costs for consumers and businesses, reduce Australia’s overall carbon emissions, and create healthier, better spaces in which to live and work,” he said.
The Trajectory and its underlying reports can be found at the COAG Energy Council website. The detail of the Trajectory’s requirements will now be considered by the Commonwealth, state and territory building ministers at the Building Ministers’ Forum, whose twice-yearly meeting will take place in Hobart on Friday.
“We call on building ministers to support the delivery of this trajectory through a commitment to the regulatory measures necessary to provide certainty for the construction industry while lowering emissions, saving money and delivering healthier, more comfortable buildings for all of us,” Cartledge said.
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