The first comprehensive, nationwide plan to fix Australia's buildings' energy use and greenhouse impact has been officially launched in the form of the Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan.

The Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan – a joint project of climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions and The University of Melbourne Energy Institute – demonstrates how all existing buildings can reach zero emissions in their operations within ten years.

“Australian buildings are not up to the challenges of today,” explained lead author Trent Hawkins.

“Our buildings are generally too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and use a phenomenal amount of energy to run basic services.

“This plan shows how Australia can transform our existing buildings to reduce energy bills, increase comfort and health, and generate renewable energy.”

Key to the plan is accessible technology and realistic deliverables. Extensive research, modelling, and analysis have led to the selection of a suite of widely applicable technologies and strategies from electric heat pumps to full insulation retrofits. All of these have been proven to work and are existing, commercial off-the shelf building and appliance technologies.

In combination, these measures were found to achieve a 60-80% saving in eleven different building cases (from the various residential, office, education and retail building types). These savings were achievable across the range of Australia’s climate zones.

Perhaps the most radical part of the plan is for Australian buildings to go gas free. The use of fossil gas (conventional fossil gas, coal seam gas, shale gas & others) is completely removed from the buildings sector. Fossil gas appliances are replaced with higher efficiency electric alternatives, eliminating gas bills and leading to significant reductions in energy use while avoiding the climate and environmental damage caused by gas.

The report suggests that the residential building sector can achieve 53% energy use reduction overall, with some typical home categories seeing over 70% reduction. Commercial building categories can reduce energy use by 44% overall.

Zero Carbon Australia buildings live retrofit show

Zero Carbon Australia buildings live retrofit show at Sustainable Living Festival

The residential sector is also shown to be capable of generating more than their entire annual demand from rooftop solar panels, effectively turning Australian homes into renewable energy power stations. There is enough solar exposed roof space on residential buildings to install 31 GW of rooftop solar photovoltaics, according to the plan. 2.5 GW of rooftop solar photovoltaics could also be installed on non-residential buildings.

If implemented, Beyond Zero Emissions says the Buildings Plan would give households a new level of control over their energy bills. It could remove the need for the polluting and unpopular coal-seam gas industry, and it would stimulate employment in trades and services for the buildings sector in the form of tens of thousands of jobs.

“Economically, this plan is a good news story. Today Australian households spend $15 billion per year on electricity and gas bills. Our modelling shows that this plan could save up to $40 billion over the next 30 years, compared to business as usual,” Mr Hawkins explained.

In June 2010, Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) launched the ground-breaking Zero Carbon Australia (ZCA) Stationary Energy Plan that showed how Australia’s electricity could be supplied by 100% renewable energy sources within 10 years. This acclaimed Plan has since been followed by the government sponsored 100% renewable energy plans by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

The ZCA Buildings Plan is the next step in this transition.

“We want to start the conversation about how Australia can fix its buildings. By taking action now, we can start to curb the environmental impact of our energy-hungry buildings – and improve life for us as occupants.” concluded Mr Hawkins.