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03 Sep 2009

Draft 2010 Building Code of Australia - new energy efficiency provisions

by Brendan Bateman, Karen Trainor, Xavier McMahon, Chantal Le Feuvre

The new energy efficiency provisions illustrate a broad objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On 10 June 2009 the Australian Building Codes Board released its draft amendments to the Building Code of Australia (BCA). It is proposed that these amendments will form part of the 2010 edition of the BCA, which is expected to take effect from 1 May 2010. While limited public consultation has already occurred, a further opportunity to make submissions will be available following release of a regulatory impact statement in September.

Objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Previous editions of the BCA have stated that the objective of minimum energy performance standards was "to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by efficiently using energy"; the draft BCA narrows this objective to simply "reduce greenhouse gas emissions." The rationale for this amendment is set out in the explanatory notes for the draft BCA:

"[this change] is to accommodate new provisions that are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without necessarily improving energy efficiency. For example, using a gas water heater instead of an electric one actually uses more energy (aspects such as insulation being equal) but is responsible for generating less greenhouse gas. This also better reflects the government's goal."

National Strategy on Energy Efficiency

A major component of the BCA amendments is a suite of new energy efficiency provisions. These amendments are in response to the Council of Australian Governments' ("COAG") request that the Australian Building Codes Board increase energy efficiency provisions in the 2010 edition of the BCA. COAG met in Hobart on 30 April 2009 and released the "National Strategy on Energy Efficiency" in July 2009. Key strategies relating to the building industry included:

  • the development of a nationally consistent assessment and rating framework to improve the energy efficiency standards of Australia's building stock, including measures such as the convergence of existing measurement-based tools (such as NABERS) for existing buildings with predictive tools used for rating new buildings;
  • a "significant increase over time" in the stringency of energy efficiency provisions for all commercial buildings, including a requirement to implement efficiency measures where the cost ratio is 2:1 compared to the existing 5:1;
  • phasing in from 2010 the mandatory disclosure by building owners and developers of the energy efficiency of commercial buildings and that voluntary standards for maintenance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning be introduced where mandatory standards are not in place; and
  • achieving energy efficiency in the residential building sector by upgrading the minimum energy standard to 6-stars or equivalent by 2011 and phasing in mandatory disclosure of residential building energy, greenhouse and water performance at the time of sale or lease.

COAG anticipates that "six, seven and eight star buildings, or equivalent, will become the norm in Australia, not the exception".

A number of recommendations in the Strategy have been incorporated into the draft 2010 BCA.

Energy efficiency provisions

Proposed energy efficiency amendments and new provisions include:

  • prescribing that energy efficiency of residential buildings be subject to NatHERS' "star" ratings rather than detailed prescriptive "Deemed-to-Satisfy" provisions. This is based on COAG's recommendation. Some of the "Deemed-to-Satisfy" provisions are retained, including insulation standards, thermal breaks and building sealing provisions;
  • prescribing that building services (such as a heating system) for a conditioned space must obtain energy from a source that is renewable or has a low greenhouse gas intensity;
  • amending definitions which relate to energy efficiency. Notably, the definition of "conditioned space" is broadened to capture indirect air-conditioning, where conditioned air is sourced from another space (such as a stairwell);
  • more stringent air-conditioning and ventilation requirements for buildings;
  • extending hot water supply provisions to swimming pools and spas (the 2009 BCA covers only hot water pipes) to require the reduction of greenhouse gas intensity of the energy source for heating of pools and spas. This includes a proposal that outdoor pools not be powered by electricity or gas;
  • inserting requirements for lighting in residences. Currently there are no restrictions on lighting in residential buildings;
  • decreasing lighting allowances for buildings which were already subject to allowances (such as health care buildings, cafes, shops, restaurants, schools and laboratories);
  • inserting a new thermal calculation method which is in line with developments in house energy rating software;
  • inserting a definition for "renewable energy certificate" to describe an established way to quantify the performance of solar water heater and heat pump water heaters. The draft BCA also states that Renewable Energy Certificates issued by the Commonwealth Government are suitable evidence of compliance.

Next steps

The draft 2010 BCA requires all proposals to be subject to regulatory impact assessment. A Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement outlining the proposed energy efficiency provisions is expected to be released for public comment during September 2009.

  • Early September 2009: Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement released
  • January 2010: Electronic BCA expected release
  • February 2010: Hard copy BCA expected release
  • Early 2010: Awareness seminars
  • 1 May 2010: BCA 2010 adoption (Subject to arrangements by the States & Territories).

Conclusion

The draft 2010 BCA reflects a shift away from merely promoting the efficient use of energy to a clearer focus on addressing climate change. In particular, the new energy efficiency provisions illustrate a broad objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.