A New Era for Net-Zero Buildings? How Building Energy Modelling can support Australia’s renewed climate ambitions

Date Published

3rd Aug 2022 @ 9:02
Roger Cladingboel
Greenstar AP, MAIRAH, BSc Eng
Senior BDM Australia & New Zealand

Following years of ‘climate wars’ and underwhelming carbon policies, the 2022 Australian election marked a potentially significant turning point in Australia’s Zero Carbon transition. Climate change was cited as the number one issue for voters prior to the election of Anthony Albanese’s Australian Labour Party (ALP) majority government in May, which comes as no surprise in light of the increasing instances of severe drought, historic bushfires, record-breaking floods and mass coral bleaching events the country has experienced in recent years.

The issue of climate change has been a contentious one for Australian politics over the past decade. In that time, under the Liberal-National government we have seen emissions trading schemes axed, climate agencies dismantled, and other carbon and environmental policies surreptitiously dropped, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that countries need to be doing much more to address climate change before the damage we are already witnessing becomes irreversible. None of this went unnoticed by the IPCC, who earlier this year cited Australia’s “lack of consistent policy direction” and “inability of institutions and government systems to manage climate risks” amongst the key climate risks and barriers to adaptation for the region.

Former Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, also fell under strict criticism during last year’s COP26 climate summit, where he refused to commit to more stringent emissions cuts by 2030, instead standing by an existing pledge that Australia would cut its emissions by only 26% to 28% by 2030 – a stance completely at odds with the level of reductions the IPCC had warned was required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres notably called out the former government for their inadequate climate policy during the summit, labelling Australia a “holdout” on meaningful emissions reductions and condemning Morrison’s refusal to commit to an accelerated phase-out of coal.

It was therefore welcome news to global climate agencies last month when newly appointed Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, formally confirmed his government’s more ambitious pledge to cut carbon emissions by 43% from 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. While this is still a considerable way off the 74% reduction by 2030 it has been calculated Australia needs to achieve to comply with the 1.5C limit, and Albanese has already ruled out a ban on fossil fuel projects, a 15% increase in Australia’s interim emissions target is nonetheless a step in the right direction.  It appears likely the new legislation will pass, with the Greens leader Adam Bandt willing to come to the table to support the new government’s pledge.  Indeed, the Greens leader will keep fighting against coal and gas whilst surrendering his key demand to veto all new fossil fuel projects.

Exactly how the new government intends to achieve these targets is yet to be seen. However, there is no question that, if they are serious in their pursuit of zero carbon, improvements across the built environment sector – an area which accounts for around 25% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions – will be crucial. Estimates indicate that emissions from construction materials in Australia generates between 30 million and 50 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, and that is before even considering the operational emissions that continue to be released into the atmosphere throughout the building lifecycle. To put it in perspective, global figures indicate that buildings are responsible for 39% of global energy related carbon emissions: 28% from operational emissions and the remaining 11% from materials and construction, so there is no denying that widescale change is required across all aspects of the built environment, through design, construction and operation.

Building energy modelling and simulation using tools such as IES’ Virtual Environment (VE) software and ICL digital twin tools provides an effective and readily available solution to improve the energy and carbon performance of buildings from the early design or retrofit stages, all the way through into the operational phase. We have a whole range of case studies from across the globe that can attest to the power of using our tools to accurately model different scenarios, design options and operational strategies to help create buildings which not only perform well in terms of energy efficiency and having a low carbon impact, but are also cost effective and comfortable for the people that use them as well.

Towards the end of last year, we reported that Australia’s energy modelling protocols were in a state of flux as they aimed to support the transition towards net zero carbon buildings. This is a trend we can only expect to continue as the drive to net-zero accelerates under the new leadership and while the new compliance routes for commercial buildings using the VURBS approach is largely unchanged, the residential now includes a whole of building approach. 

Rest assured that our team are on hand support you in navigating this and any further changes as they arise. We know the impact that our built environment can and must make in tackling the worst impacts of climate change, and with the help of our cutting-edge, physics powered technology we know that we have the tools to make it happen. So let’s show this new government what we can do and get to work in bringing those new net-zero targets into reality.

Based in Australia and keen to understand how to get your buildings on track for net-zero? Get in touch with roger.cladingboel@iesve.com to find out more about our solutions and how IES can support.


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