Arrangements which govern critical aspects of Australia’s leading energy rating scheme for houses are far from optimal and need a significant overhaul, a key person within the nation’s building industry says.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source has called for substantial change in the way in which the National Housing Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) is being run across a number of areas.
First, there is the appointment of managers.
Under the current scheme, the national administrator who oversees the scheme at an operational level has a manager appointed to them by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
However, the source said, recent years have seen a high level of turnover of managers who are often replaced by candidates who have little understanding of the scheme and tend to view their appointment largely as a stepping stone within their career. This is leading to the scheme being managed at an operational level by people who rarely stay and are not necessarily overly engaged with the scheme itself.
Instead, the source said, managers should be appointed on a three-year, fixed-term contract with key performance indicators which are tied to a strategic plan and industry feedback about how the department and the administrator are performing.
The role should also go to somebody on who has an interest and an understanding of how the scheme actually works, they added.
“Over the past four or five years, there have been just as many managers coming through that department and being appointed,” the source said.
“None of the managers last more than 12 months, maybe 18 if you are lucky. You are finding that when one resigns, leaves or gets seconded somewhere else, it takes a month or two, maybe three, to find someone new to fill that position. Often, that position is filled by somebody who doesn’t understand what NatHERS does and views the role as a stepping stone. By the time they then go through the process of being informed about what is going on, they get to the stage where they don’t want to know about it and are looking for their next job.
“So you’ve got the scheme being managed at an operational administrative level by a succession of people who don’t stay and aren’t necessarily engaged or interested.”
Aside from this, other issues revolve around a siloing in terms of operations, the need to reconvene a technical advisory committee and a need for greater transparency with regard to how contracts are awarded to perform tasks such as weighing assessments and testing of software for accreditation purposes.
On the first issue, there is generally little if any communication between an Energy Working Group which largely determines the policy direction of the scheme at a strategic level and a separate Building Committee which is a sub-committee of the EWG and which develops and implements the scheme’s program of work, the source said.
In absence of direction from the latter group (made up of largely representatives from building regulators), they said, the former group - mostly made up of representatives from energy departments - could end up dictating policy which unknowingly to them is unworkable at a practical level.
Instead, the two groups should meet and do so regularly, the source added.
On the next issue, a Technical Advisory Committee which included representatives from industry and software developers as well as state and territory officials and provides guidance on a range of technical matters has not met for the past couple of years.
This group should be reconvened and should report directly to the ERG as a means by which the ERG could better understand any concerns being raised from those who make the software and work in the field in terms of the way in which the scheme is being run, the source said.
Finally, the source said there were concerns surrounding transparency and the processes by which contracts to perform tasks such as conducting weighting assessments, software accreditation and software testing were being awarded.
A panel of energy assessors to whom such contracts are given has not been updated since 2012 should be updated, they said.
To avoid perceptions of preferential treatment, greater transparency was also needed with regard to the awarding of contracts within that panel, they added.
These comments come amid a review of NatHERS governance arrangements which is currently being conducted by ACIL Allen Consulting. A report from that review is expected to be finalised in coming months.
The comments also come amid ongoing levels of criticism about various aspects of the NatHERS scheme. In a recent study, for example, University of Adelaide researchers found that baseline assumptions upon which the scheme is underpinned do not correspond to actual behaviour observed within certain types of low energy dwellings, which lead to significant overestimation of their power consumption levels.