by Dr Portia Odell, Director, Cities Power Partnership

Local governments across Australia are leading the race to net zero communities, but poor energy efficiency standards, and poorly made homes, are dampening progress. Here, Cities Power Partnership, Australia’s largest network of local councils leading the way to net zero, discusses fresh research from the Climate Council. They highlight how Australians could be saving hundreds a year on their energy bills by living in a home with higher energy efficiency standards.

Living in a large nation with varying temperatures and climates, Australians don’t have much of a choice but to use copious amounts of energy to heat and cool their homes.

Low energy efficiency standards have left too many Australians living in poorly made homes equated to “glorified tents”, which are stifling during summer and freezing in winter. In fact, houses that are too cold contribute to 6 per cent of deaths in Australia – double the rate in Sweden, where winter temperatures reach minus 30°C.

These glorified tents are also expensive to run – Australian homeowners face some of the most expensive energy bills in the world, with as many as 85 per cent of Australians experiencing “bill shock” during 2020.

The energy efficiency of a home impacts how much energy is required to power the home, such as for heating and cooling. The better the energy efficiency, the less energy being used for the same tasks, and vice versa – saving on cost, energy and emissions. In the race to net zero emissions, electricity use matters.

Australia is now ranked 18 out of 25 of the world’s top energy users when it comes to energy performance, sitting behind Spain, France, the UK, Germany, China, Poland and Mexico on energy efficiency building standards.

For local governments, more energy efficient homes means residents are less exposed to ongoing financial pressure of energy bills, will experience better health outcomes and have protection from heat waves and cold spells.

The higher standards are also a tangible pathway for local governments to reach community net zero targets quickly and easily.

Making buildings efficient for the future

Electricity generation is the biggest contributor to climate change in Australia, due to the majority of the country’s electricity being made by burning fossil fuels, such as coal and gas.

Making new Australian buildings more energy efficient will not only help communities cut emissions and address climate change, but would directly save homeowners hundreds of dollars every year in energy bills.

Recent Climate Council modelling shows a 7-Star all-electric home achieves a 25 per cent reduction in emissions, compared to the current minimum standard of a 6-Star all-electric home.

It also shows that building a 7-Star, all-electric house in Australia will save on average $450 per year on heating and cooling costs compared to a 6-Star home, showcasing that residents in every part of Australia are better off under higher minimum standards.

It’s a no-brainer, and right now, Australia has the opportunity to make sure that everyone locks in the benefits of higher energy efficiency standards.

For the first time in eleven years, the laws that mandate minimum energy efficiency standards are being reviewed. Under the National Construction Code (NCC), there is a proposal to increase from a 6-Star NatHERS standard for new homes to 7-Stars, with the decision being made by state and territory Ministers in July 2022.

This is a huge opportunity to improve the quality, comfort and running cost of Australian homes.

Local governments can have happier, healthier communities, and reach emission targets sooner.

Fast facts

• For every new home built to 7-Stars, the emissions saved each year are equivalent to taking one car off the road for an entire year

• If all the heating and cooling emissions saved from building 7-Star homes were counted out to 2030, it would add up to
total savings of 7.7 million tonnes; equivalent to a 12 per cent reduction on Australia’s 2019 national residential emissions

• Economists calculate the economic benefits of avoiding these emissions over a ten-year period as being at least $90 million and up to $3.5 billion, depending on the social cost of carbon factored in

• Every new 7-Star home built in Australia uses a third of the energy needed to heat and cool a 1.5-Star home, these savings
are significant given 80 per cent of Australian housing stock was built before the 6-Star standard came into effect

Local governments driving energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is already being driven by local councils, for example Orange City Council is saving $485,000 in annual maintenance and electricity costs just by upgrading almost 5,000 streetlights to LED.

Lismore City Council has made a number of energy efficiency upgrades to some local pools and facilities – initiatives like energy efficient lighting, heat reflective paint and solar hot water systems. All up, these energy efficiency upgrades will save Council $144,500 in electricity bills each year, equivalent to around 622,280kW hours or 658t of carbon dioxide emissions.

These are just a few examples showing how councils that are part of the Cities Power Partnership – Australia’s largest network of local councils leading the way to net zero – are sharing resources to supercharge local initiatives.

A free program, Cities Power Partnership has over 165 council members across the country, representing 65 per cent of Australians.

The next step for many councils is tackling community emissions. Advocating for stronger energy efficiency standards can make a big dent in community hip pockets and emissions across the country.

How councils and community members can take action

Get the community involved:

Community members can head to the Climate Council website to email their relevant Minister in support of them updating the National Construction Code

∞ Lead by example:

Implement energy efficiency initiatives in your council, to save valuable council funds and cut carbon emissions. Celebrate and share initiatives with your community to take them on the journey. If you need a hand, join the Cities Power Partnership (for free) and pledge to take action on energy efficiency. You will learn from dozens of councils who are also pursuing energy efficiency

∞ Profile high energy efficiency homes within your municipality:

It can be challenging to garner community support for improved energy efficiency when residents have limited understanding on what it means for them. Help educate residents by profiling high energy efficiency homes and experiences of lower bills and greater comfort

∞ Contact your Building Ministers’Forum representative directly:

The voice of councils on improving the quality of Australian homes is very powerful. Find the contact of your Building Ministers’ Forum representative directly, as well as the state or territory Minister for Energy who supports in making the decision, to let them know you support higher energy efficiency standards

Featured image: 7-Star homes can reduce emissions for local governments. Image: Ben Wrigley, provided by Light House Architecture and Science.

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