Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Energy-efficiency: building code star ratings

I don't know why it has taken me over a year to catch up with this report from the Master Builders Association of Australia. I found myself spitting chips all the time while I was reading it, for all the serious work someone obviously put in. 

The report begins with a rhetorical stance, that trying to force further improvements in predicted energy efficiency for heating and cooling of homes  is bad for the home owner, and bad for the rest of us.  And it never lets up, even when some of the figures it tosses around look absurd.  

I don’t actually have too many problems though with the methodology, so much as with the total absence of any proper discussion of either building industry/real estate context, or a decent bit of economics analysis that looks beyond an unrealistic system boundary.  

I mean, if a mandated energy efficiency compliance measure imposes a cost that is not recovered as an energy saving in financial terms, that is not ipso facto a damaging cost to both the individual and the rest of society.  For a start, it is likely to be offset in the first instance by foregoing some other discretionary spending on the dwelling construction, hopefully related to size.  I am not an economist, but I am sure even a semi-literate professional economist would be able to describe a model, in which expenditure on the ‘marginal improvements’ for energy efficiency would be suitably considered in whole of society terms. 

How on earth could you build an entire framework of ‘optimum’ star ratings, without considering that (at least in new build) it may be contingent on changes in what is a typical house, rather than incremental tweaks to existing house designs?  That is the dead give-away.  That the MBA would want such a study is obvious and even understandable.  They have a vested interest in making $10K look like it’s going to bring the home building industry to its knees.  They don't want anything interfering with the punters chasing ever bigger MacMansions, or fitting them out with ever more exotic granite topped kitchen cupboards.  But for the authors of the study to take the same position a priori, is intellectually offensive.

Notwithstanding all of that, I also think the star ratings scheme based on the AccuRate simulation software is a fatally flawed way of getting policy traction on domestic energy consumption, and anything that prompts a re-examination is welcome.

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