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More work needed on energy policy

15 February, 2013

More work needed on energy policy

New Zealand policy makers could do a lot more to improve energy efficiency and conservation, a new report says.

It echoes calls from other organisations, including the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty and the Government’s own Green Growth Advisory Group and says the country’s energy policy framework should give “a central place to energy efficiency”.

The report is the first part of the Energy Cultures Research Project, a $1,050,000 project investigating how society can adapt rapidly to achieve a low-energy, low-carbon future.

It focuses on household energy behaviour around space and water heating, which accounts for 60% of all household energy use, and is the result of three years work by Professor Barry Barton and a team of inter-disciplinary researchers from around the country.

Professor Barton, from the University of Waikato’s Te Piringa – Faculty of Law, is the lead author of the report, which was launched at the National Energy Research Institute (NERI) conference in Wellington on Thursday, 14 February.

He says improving the efficiency of our energy use would have positive spin-offs across the board.

“There are lots of changes we can make that would result in the use of energy far more effectively,” he says.

“We would spend less on electricity, reduce our climate change emissions and get more results in terms of warm houses and the like.”

The report shows lower energy users – about 25% of the population - tend to have substandard housing and inefficient energy technologies yet have “very economical” energy practices.

“This combination of circumstances tends to be aligned with cold, often damp, housing,” it says.

While initiatives such as the Warm Up New Zealand programme helped, it needed to continue and include clean and efficient space and water heating.

The report also looked into issues faced by tenants, a growing proportion of the population.

Addressing the lack of drivers for landlords to improve energy standards of rental properties should be a priority, it says.

It also notes another group, about 20% of the population, which represented an opportunity to make “significant gains” in energy conservation and efficiency.

This group had higher energy use, paid little attention to improving energy efficiency at home, owned lots of appliances and had little regard for energy efficient practices.

“This cluster of households is generally wealthier and thus has fewer barriers than others to making efficiency improvements,” the report says.

Professor Barton says the report’s release is timely given the current debate on affordable housing,

“If you build cheap houses you do pay a price in other ways.”

New Zealand houses are often cold and damp with little or no insulation so simply installing a heat pump does not fix the problem. Power bills could go up while the heat being generated is easily lost.

Improving energy efficiency and conservation is about changing behaviour, Professor Barton says, “but how people behave is complex”.

The material culture of a household “seems to be more important than values or norms,” he says.

Professor Barton and his team are now working on the second part of the Energy Futures Project - based at Otago University - looking at private (home and business) transport.

Also at the NERI conference, the University of Waikato was showcasing its leading edge innovations as part of the University Commercialisation Offices of New Zealand (UCONZ) display.

UCONZ was formed in 2005 to bring together commercialisation offices of the country’s universities and establish closer links with commercial research partners.

Other University of Waikato staff delivering energy-related presentations at the conference included PhD student Steve Farnworth, Professor Mark Apperley and Dr Michael Walmsley.

ENDS

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