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Energy-Wise Homes

Friday, 25 August 2000, 11.00am: Address to the Annual Conference of the Window Association of NZ, Blenheim Country Lodge, Blenheim.

Pete Hodgson, Minister of Energy

Thank you for the opportunity to address your conference.

I’d like to start by setting the scene of residential sector energy use.

About a quarter of the nation’s energy is consumed in houses and commercial buildings. Your industry plays a key role in determining the energy efficiency of New Zealand homes, which have traditionally been very energy inefficient. Overseas visitors often comment on how cold and damp New Zealand houses are. They're right and it’s about time something was done about it.

As a country we must improve the energy and health-related performance of our buildings. For decades the energy efficiency requirements in the Building Code have been inadequate. Until recently the insulation requirement for new homes was based on an outdated and provisional 1977 Standard and there has been no requirement for builders to insulate commercial buildings.

These issues are being tackled. The Government has recently introduced stronger energy efficiency requirements to the code.

It will divide New Zealand into two zones - a warm and a cool zone - in which different insulation requirements will apply. It will also set minimum heat-loss requirements for water heating systems. And it will set specific limits on building heat loss and on lighting energy levels in commercial buildings. These so-called Clause H1 amendments to the Building Code take effect from the end of this year.

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Despite these important changes, there is still much to be done. The requirements under the Code must be upgraded, as necessary. They must be practically achievable for builders and equipment suppliers.

In turn industry has a responsibility to improve the overall energy performance of products offered to the market. That’s why I am pleased to participate in your association’s launch of the Windows Efficiency Rating System. The system will provide credible and consistent information to consumers, architects and window specifiers on the performance of the windows. At the same time it will raise consumer awareness about the effect windows have on energy use in buildings.

Specifically, the scheme will rate heating and cooling performance as well as ultra violet light penetration. For the first time it will allow informed purchase choices to be made in an area where previously, all too frequently, consumers were encouraged to accept blindly what they were offered.

The system has been an industry-led initiative. Its development was strongly supported by the Government’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ). I congratulate all those who put in the time, effort and leadership to make this system a reality.

Currently the energy efficiency of windows is not regulated by the Building Code. In part this was because there was no practical way of setting quality standards in this field. Now that insulation levels of walls and ceilings have been raised, windows are the main component of the building envelope where further energy efficiency gains can be made. The new rating scheme provides means by which Government can bring window energy performance under direct Building Code control.

Just as well. We still have a long way to go before New Zealand buildings can be considered energy efficient.

Recently an International Energy Agency researcher completed a four-year study of the energy intensity of New Zealand, compared to other developed countries. The study was commissioned by EECA and confirmed what I, and a number of others, have said for years: New Zealand has a poor energy efficiency record. By international standards we simply waste the stuff. We’ve experienced efficiency drives in the last 15 years or so on everything except energy use.

Times change. Energy efficiency is now at the heart of the Government’s energy policy. It is one of those rare policy areas where there are many winners and, so far as I am aware, no losers. It makes plain economic sense for consumers, it has an environmental and an employment benefit and it has a social advantage. If a home or workplace is made more energy efficient, its occupants will enjoy increased comfort, increased light levels, increased warmth, and therefore improved health.

If energy efficiency is so good, why does it need any Government involvement at all? Why don’t people just rush out and invest to become energy efficient? Why does the market fail? The literature on that issue is immense, and when it is all boiled down the main driver is probably attitude.

We can’t see energy easily. We don’t have infra red cameras in our homes, shops or factories to see where the heat leaks are. We only pay for energy once a month. While we say the bill is too high there are 30 days in the month where we don’t have to think much about it.

The Government is taking the lead by shifting the policy focus from energy production to more efficient energy consumption. Energy efficiency needs promotion, it needs visibility, it needs performance standards and it needs Government leadership. It is getting all that from this Government.

EECA's work programme is being better funded and has been put on a legislative footing with the recent passage of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act. EECA’s work agenda includes minimum energy performance standards, renewing the Energy-Wise Companies campaign, introducing energy efficiency labelling and further improving the Building Code. EECA will also continue to support the Household Energy End-use Project as a primer for future policy development in this sector. The study has already provided valuable insights into the energy use behaviour of New Zealanders.

As a statutory Crown entity EECA’s most important task will be to take a lead in developing a National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy. It is critical that the Strategy incorporates the collective wisdom of business, environmental and professional groups. I urge you to take part in this process.

The Strategy will raise a host of issues.

How are we to meet future demand without resorting to more large thermal power stations or steeply rising prices? How will we meet that demand and meet New Zealand’s international obligations regarding carbon dioxide emissions, especially as those obligations inevitably tighten? How will we improve the efficiency of our nation’s energy use, or conversely reduce our energy intensity, so that we can begin to catch up with other developed nations?

New Zealanders demand guaranteed availability of energy, as citizens of every modern nation do. But there are no easy, cheap and sustainable answers to the energy questions of New Zealand. Instead, we must do something of everything. Energy efficiency means technology. It means attention to detail.

The Government is tackling these issues in-depth. The emerging scientific consensus is that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being reflected in the early signs of global warming. New Zealand must change course, as must the rest of the world.

The new context for energy policy is climate change. As you probably know, the Prime Minister has announced New Zealand’s commitment to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. The Government is focused on what is required to meet this challenge. I am co-ordinating the ministerial committee on climate change. It’s a large job, a long one and one that we need to do carefully and very well.

However Government can only do so much. Improving our energy efficiency also requires support and innovative thinking from both the community and industry. In particular we need industry groups that are prepared to raise the quality of their products and improve consumer awareness in the way that the Window Association is doing. What you have done in developing and introducing your rating system could become a model for other industry groups. It demonstrates that industry can take a lead in energy efficiency issues without waiting for either Government instruction or regulation. In a word, congratulations.

Once again thank you for inviting me to speak here. I am pleased to have been able to participate in the launch of the Windows Efficiency Rating System. I’ll be watching its implementation with interest.


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