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Queensland awaits the new BZE Buildings Plan
Eco-conscious Queenslanders will be pleased to learn the launch of a new Zero Carbon
Australia plan by the award winning non-profit educational and research group, Beyond Zero
Emissions (BZE) is fast approaching.
Like the Stationary Energy Plan launched in 2010, the new Buildings Plan draws on many
experts who have volunteered their time to compile it. The plan will explain how to transition
Australian's buildings sector to zero carbon emissions, through energy efficiency retrofits and
other clean tech strategies, saving consumers money and emissions.
Lead author on the plan, Trent Hawkins says, “Imagine buildings efficiency programs in the
near future which include the features of a "virtual power station", with solar panels, heat-
pump boosted solar hot water, reverse-cycle airconditioning, bulk and silver insulation, air
sealing, induction cooktops, and efficient LED lighting.”
“Our plan also includes auditing and upgrading existing, poor performing air conditioning
units at little or no cost to consumers, as part of a comprehensive plan to build the one big
community wide "virtual power station" Trent said.
“We need to take a cool headed approach and evaluate all the options. Renewable heat using
heat pumps is the biggest onsite renewable source available to all Australians, especially
those in high rise units who may miss out on the opportunity to install solar hot water or
rooftop solar photovoltaic panels.”
In the lead up to the plan’s release, the BZE team were bold enough to conduct a live retrofit
at the 2012 Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne.
Trent said the experience was hair-raising: “Imagine an average Australian house transform
right before your eyes into a zero-carbon, low-energy, high-performance home based on
the Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan – and that’s exactly what we did, in front of an
“The live retrofit performance physically demonstrated some of the best steps to improve the
energy usage of a common Australian home.”
“The performance mixed a presentation of some key proposals from the ZCA2020 Buildings
Plan with video and a funny, Brechtian-style moving stage-set show. The performance relied
on volunteer labour, donated and scavenged materials to great effect,” he said.
Many of us would wonder why tougher environmental standards for buildings aren’t more
actively enforced and why are we still building low-performance buildings. At a time when
the cost of electricity continues to rise, high-performing energy efficient homes offer much
needed respite from cost-of-living pressures, while responding to the challenges of the
Trent says we need strong government action on the side of working Australians by setting
clear efficiency standards and providing better incentives for the building industry. Only then
will Australians have comfortable and affordable housing that is climate-friendly.
Fortunately in May 2011, Victoria joined the rest of Australia in compliance with the 'six star'
building standards for new homes, renovations and additions. The six-star building standards
replaced the redundant five-star standards that were employed in various incarnations across
But the six-star standard requires that only some of these measures are undertaken. The
standards require new buildings only to have either a solar hot water system or a rainwater
tank for toilet flushing, not both. Furthermore, the six-star standard is assessed and approved
at the design stage and leaves the actual implementation of these strategies at the discretion of
the client and their builder/contractor. Checking the installation itself is not compulsory.
A simple thermal heating test should be adopted to ensure that completed buildings actually
comply with energy efficiency standards, while also highlighting any shoddy workmanship.
“This seems like half-hearted effort from our political leaders who clearly don’t see there are
massive savings to be made in financial and environmental terms,” Trent said.
“The lack of enforceable policy on these matters highlights the Government's noncommittal
attitude to serious building standards and illustrates the greater need for post-occupancy
assessment,” he said.
At the moment, the vast proportion of Australia's residential market is controlled by volume
building companies. Metricon Homes currently spruik "seemingly unlimited space" as an
investment - completely disregarding an investment in a low-emissions future. Similarly,
Henley Homes' advertising catchphrase is "more home, more value."
At some point, building and selling over-sized homes becomes more profitable than building
reasonable-sized houses and volume builders like Metricon are capitalising on this. By up-
selling superfluous add-ons, they encourage an attitude of excess which, in turn, demonstrates
the failings of Australia's star ratings.
A new buildings strategy needs to be adopted. Scrapping the star rating system and quoting
to homeowners their actual predicted energy consumption from heating and cooling systems
would be a viable alternative.
By placing heating, lighting and appliances on separate circuits and installing new meters,
it would be possible for strict energy efficiency standards to be properly measured and
regulated. Residents would be empowered as they monitor their energy use and better
understand the energy performance of their home.
With the current focus on the carbon price, after the belated efforts at ceiling insulation and
solar installation by the Rudd Government, the Gillard Government needs to re-engage with
our built environment and demonstrate how measures such as improving building standards
are to play key supporting roles for the carbon pricing scheme.
In the United Kingdom, the coalition government has recognised the role that building
efficiency standards will have to play in reaching their 50 per cent emissions target by 2027.
The residential sector contributes about 17 per cent of the UK's total carbon emissions; in
Australia, that figure is around 11 per cent.
Given that the technology for achieving energy efficient housing is widely known, used and
tested, the housing sector clearly presents an excellent opportunity for reducing emissions.
The technology is there and so are the appropriate buildings standards.
Voluntary green building certification standards already exist, such as the International Green
Construction Code (IGCC). Britain is in the process of releasing its definition of zero carbon
housing (to be enforced from 2016), while countries of severely cold climes have been doing
all of this for decades.
Whatever your incentive, energy efficient building design and sustainable performance is
an absolute no-brainer. It would reduce Australia's total carbon emissions. It would present
energy savings for bill payers and more healthy and comfortable homes. This also has
reciprocal benefits for government spending: a healthier population and more breathing room
for the transition to renewable energy.
We need the current government to engage in committed, long-term investment in building
standards in order to secure an energy efficient future. The low performance homes of the
late 20th century are based on a period in which electricity costs were so low that efficiency
measures were inconsequential. The government needs to view building standards as an
investment in our energy future.
The Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan is to be launched in coming months. Want to get
to the launch, read the plan or volunteer to spread the word? Join the mailing list for Beyond
Zero Emissions now at www.beyondzeroemissions.org
Biography: Trent Hawkins
Trent Hawkins is the Project Director of the Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan at Beyond
Zero Emissions. The Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan is Australia’s first comprehensive
national plan to decarbonise the building sector. It investigates the maximum energy
reductions viable given current technologies and methods.
Trent is a Mechanical Engineer with a background in renewable energy and computational
modelling. He previously held the position of Technical Manager at the sustainable energy
consultancy, Enhar. As Technical Manager he undertook several feasibility studies for wind
farms, co-wrote the Victorian Consumer Guide to Small Wind Turbines, and performed wind
monitoring and analysis. Before a career change to sustainable energy, Trent worked in bio-
medical research, where he developed computational modelling tools in radiation dosimetry
and intraoperative imaging for brain surgery.