02.09.2018

Australia’s buildings must be built for a zero carbon future

Energy standards in Australia’s National Construction Code must be urgently upgraded if new buildings are to be fit for a zero carbon future, according to a new report.

Built to Perform, prepared by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia, shows setting stronger energy standards for new buildings in the Code could, between now and 2050, reduce energy bills by up to $27 billion, cut energy network costs by up to $7 billion and deliver at least 78 million tonnes of cumulative emissions savings.

“Australia needs to transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2050 to meet our commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. But new analysis by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy shows Australia scores the lowest in energy efficiency amongst all developing countries. Although market-leading Australian companies are demonstrating world-class commitment to a sustainable built environment, the market alone cannot fix this problem,” said ASBEC Executive Director Suzanne Toumbourou.

“All of the buildings being built today will still be operating in 2050, at a time when we will need to be at or 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.”

“We welcome proposed improvements to the 2019 National Construction Code to advance energy performance in commercial buildings and adjust the requirements for residential buildings,” said Ms Toumbourou. “However, to meet the full potential of the Code, we need to shift away from ad-hoc, periodic updates. Governments must agree to a longer-term plan with targets and a clear, regulated and transparent process for Code updates out to 2030, starting with a step-change in residential standards in 2022.”

“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.

“Even this conservative analysis shows that, by 2030, improvement in Code energy requirements could reduce energy consumption of new buildings by up to 56 per cent. This 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,” said ClimateWorks Project Manager Michael Li. “With the costs of solar PV and battery storage rapidly reducing, adding on-site renewable energy into the Code could deliver significant additional gains.”

Although there are upfront costs associated with these improvements, these are small (less than 4% for detached homes) relative to overall construction costs and land prices.

“While the Code is important, it can only take us part way to net zero,” said Ms Toumbourou. “Improving compliance and enforcement with Code requirements is paramount, as well as improving appliance energy standards, retrofitting existing buildings, providing building owners and occupants with better information, and driving faster decarbonisation of the electricity grid. The Code should be seen as one part of an integrated strategy to deliver a zero carbon building sector by 2050.”

“Delaying action will mean that many of these opportunities are lost,” said Mr Li. “A three-year delay in further upgrades to building energy performance standards could lead to a further $2.6 billion in wasted energy expenditure and lock in an additional 9 million tonnes of emissions by 2030, increasing to 22 million tonnes by 2050.”