Zero energy ideal

We’re heading towards a future of low energy buildings, according to a national plan that maps out our intended flightpath.

Photo courtesy 360 Building Solutions & Light House Architecture and Science


Simon Croft

As a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change, Australia has committed to reduce its total emissions to 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and reach net zero emissions by 2050. Whether we are on track to meet this target is another debate.

However, the energy efficiency of buildings came under scrutiny in February this year, with the COAG Energy Council (state and territory Energy Ministers) meeting and agreeing on a forward program to support these commitments. The outcome is a number of increases to the National Construction Code (NCC) energy efficiency provisions over the next decade and beyond.

The Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings is the result of 12 months consultation by the Department of Environment and Energy to deliver on recommendation 31 in the National Energy Productivity Plan (2015) for advancing the NCC energy efficiency provisions.

HIA has continually raised concerns about the focus on the building fabric as opposed to a holistic approach

For residential buildings (Class 1 and Class 2 buildings), the agreed trajectory recommends significant stringency increases for NCC 2022 and NCC 2025, and thereafter more gradual increases every three years, until a target of zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings is achieved.

As part of setting this trajectory, ministers have set an actual target of what they are seeking to achieve for energy efficiency policies for buildings, this being:

Zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings – zero energy and carbon ready buildings have an energy-efficient thermal shell and appliances, have sufficiently low energy use and have the relevant set-up so they are ‘ready’ to achieve net zero energy and carbon usage, if they are combined with renewable or decarbonised energy systems onsite or off-site.

The target, while qualitative in nature, sets parameters for energy efficiency standards going forward and will be a measuring stick to enable post implementation analysis of NCC changes to determine their effectiveness. 

HIA has been consulted throughout the development of the department’s report to the COAG Energy Council and has continually raised concerns about the focus on the building fabric as opposed to a holistic approach, along with a lack of consideration to the contribution renewables, such as storage batteries/PVS, can make to reduce both emissions and energy consumption. 

Unfortunately, the report also continued to focus on new buildings, as opposed to existing buildings, which were acknowledged as an area where significant gains could be achieved in both bill savings and emissions reductions. Ministers have however agreed to undertake a project over the next 12 months to look at opportunities for improving the performance of existing buildings.

Following the February meeting, the Energy Ministers referred the trajectory onto the Building Ministers Forum. At their recent meeting, the Building Ministers agreed to task the ABCB with scoping possible changes to the NCC 2022 in consideration of the trajectory and reporting back to it by the end of April with advice on options about how the trajectory would best be managed over the coming NCC cycles.

This setting of a national target for energy efficiency regulation for residential buildings helps to focus attention on the need to take a holistic approach to home design and construction, rather than simply focusing on star ratings and airconditioning.

HIA will continue to provide input as the work program is implemented. 

Simon Croft is HIA Executive Director – Building Policy

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