Big emissions cuts possible at home, study finds

cold house
Residential buildings could reduce their operating emissions by 53 per cent, and commercial buildings by 44 per cent, within a decade. Image:

Australia’s homes could slash their carbon emissions by half and eliminate their use of gas by investing in efficient electrical appliances now on the market, according to a clean energy advocacy group.

Jointly published with the Melbourne Energy Institute, Beyond Zero Emissions’s Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan argues that residential buildings could reduce their operating emissions by 53 per cent, and commercial buildings by 44 per cent, within a decade.

Together, the two building sectors now account for slightly more than a quarter of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Better insulation and use of heat pumps, for instance, would cut heating and cooling. Add in renewable energy sources, such as an estimated 31 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic roof-top panels, and the nation’s homes would become net-energy generators, according to the report. Australian solar PV now totals about 2 gigawatts of capacity.

The tab for the housing retrofit won’t be small – at an estimated $157 billion with another $77 billion for solar and grid upgrades.

Still, spread over a decade and covering some 8.5 million Australian homes, the annual sum would be smaller than the $30 billion-plus spent on renovations and households every year. Savings would mount after that, the report found.

“The benefits for residential [buildings] are $40 billion net present savings after 30 years,” said the project director of the report, Trent Hawkins. “Effectively, we are knocking out residential energy from the grid supply.”

Demand drops

The work comes as electricity use continues to retreat, in part because of slumping manufacturing but also because consumers are responding to higher power prices. During the fortnight to July 17, typically about the coldest time of the year, electricity use in NSW was at levels not seen for 13 years while Victoria’s had sunk to the lowest in a decade, the Melbourne Energy Institute said last month.

Household savings will be maximised if homes with solar energy are able to use most, if not all, of the power generated by their roof-top panels.

“The challenge is to schedule loads so that you’ll be using more of the power when it’s generating,” Mr Hawkins said.

The research used modelling by consultancy firm Energy Efficiency Strategies, with more than 100 volunteers also helping to “crowd source” the work. WSP Built Ecology and GHD provided assistance with the commercial sector research.

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