Benefits of high-performance housing spread wide Who pays?

26 January 2023 by Jason Quinn

Retrofitting buildings to the EnerPHit standard and designing new ones to certified Passive House levels of performance lowers cost to society and produces lots of co-benefits (ie shared by society and the individuals who live or work etc in those buildings). The issue is, who pays? Right now, the entire cost of designing and constructing incredibly energy efficient buildings with vastly reduced operational carbon demand falls on the owners of those buildings. But consider the following three points about building to achievable best practice.

  1. It will lower electrical peak demand and reduce the cost of transition to a low-carbon society, compared to business as usual. 
  2. There are a host of other benefits, well documented elsewhere, such as improved health indicators that enable more participation in society and the economy.
  3. Delaying locks in higher operational energy requirements (and thus carbon emissions) and means we will need to buy our way through transition by sending money overseas. (This concept of lock in is important, I first wrote about it here)

The fundamental issue is this. Building much more energy efficient buildings is the right thing to do—but ‘who pays’ is not the same as ‘who benefits’, at least in the short term. We need government to show leadership. New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) is currently co-ordinating one attempt to encourage such an outcome with The Homes We Deserve campaign. It’s calling on all political parties to prioritise, if elected, a ‘pollution busting home reno programme’ for hundreds of thousands of homes in the next nine years.

My bullet points above summarise key issues succinctly outlined in a submission by Dr Michael Jack et al to the Climate Change Commission in 2021. Michael is the Co-Convenor of the Otago Energy Research Centre (OERC).

Their words below, my edits for the sake of brevity:

“Overall, our modelling shows that applying currently-achievable best practice standards to new builds and retrofit of existing stock could reduce annual electricity demand … This will substantially reduce the costs of the low carbon transition because excessive over-investment in supply side infrastructure will be avoided….

In addition, this will have known co-benefits in terms of health and economic outcomes for lower socio-economic groups (Chapman et al., 2009) and would create substantial post-COVID employment opportunities.

Finally, our research also shows that given the lifetime of housing, any delays to implementing this step change in energy efficiency result in any benefits being delayed to beyond 2050.”


Technical submission here (the full paper is available online):

Submission to New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission’s consultation on its first package of advice

Jack, Michael, Stephenson, Janet and Anderson, Ben (2021) Submission to New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission’s consultation on its first package of advice University of Southampton 4pp.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *