The negative consequences of energy efficiency policy
I’m going to touch on a couple of things in this post – a recently formed research group out of the US about how people impact energy efficiency and also how house energy efficiency policy such as Basix is increasing the use of air conditioning.
First up the impact of people
Researchers from the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) and University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business have teamed up to create a new interdisciplinary group called E2e to tackle the often found shortfall between what the engineers and policy makers calculate energy savings to be and the reality of what happens.
Take a recent program in the US, that will sound familiar to people in NSW, a policy was created to provide grants to systematically remove the old inefficient air conditioning units from housing and replace them with new air conditioning units. The theory was that it would reduce the energy consumption for the air conditioning units – logically that makes sense a new efficient air conditioner uses less energy than an old inefficient unit when it is turned on. The reality was that the occupants liked the fact that it cost them less to run, the units were less noisy and more reliable and the overall energy consumption went up.
These types of problems are exactly what E2e has been setup to tackle. Keep an eye on their research – it will be extremely beneficial.
Now our homegrown problem
Basix is a NSW rating system that is used to assess the overall environmental performance of new houses and apartments in NSW, Australia.
The Basix calculation includes not only the construction of the house or apartment but also the type of air conditioning unit that you put in. If you put in a more efficient air conditioning unit you are allowed to have a slightly poorer performing facade – makes sense.
Except when you don’t put in an air conditioning unit. If you don’t put one in then the calculator assumes the worst type of air conditioning which means you have to install a better facade. Which makes sense because you don’t know what type of air conditioning unit someone might install in the future and you should allow for worst case.
Makes sense so far.
Well not quite. What is happening at the construction stage is that it is cheaper to install an air conditioning unit and a poorer performing facade than it is to not install an air conditioning unit because of the default worst case calculation in the Basix tool.
So what is happening is that before Basix came in the default was to NOT install air conditioning in apartments but offer it as a buyer option. Since Basix the ‘default worst case calculation’ has meant that the default is that every new apartment has an air conditioning unit installed for free.
If you have an air conditioner already installed in your new apartment you are more likely to use it regardless of how well the passive systems are designed – its just human nature. The air conditioning unit will be a new high efficiency unit which means the running cost will be low so you will use it more often – its just human nature.
The consequence of the policy – certainly more air conditioning units installed in homes in Australia and very likely more energy used by air conditioning not less!
Is it the fault of Basix or NSW Planning, no, it was an unforeseen negative consequence of the policy. Should they change it, yes absolutely it will have no negative consequence on energy consumption it may even have a positive consequence.