Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Energy-efficiency weather data 30 years old

Friday 8/10/2010 Page: 1

THE weather data used by the federal government to determine how billions of dollars are spent to make buildings more energy efficient is 30 years out of date and seriously undermines policy objectives to limit climate change, experts have declared. The problems are acknowledged internally by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency but its senior officers have not released up-to-date weather data, despite repeated pleas over several years from the industry.

The failure to release updated data means that any change in climate affecting Australia's cities, towns and regions since the 1970s was not influencing the development of environmentally friendlier buildings. The weather data, a sophisticated package of climate measurements done by Australia's meteorological networks, is used to determine how buildings should be constructed to achieve optimum energy efficiency. The requirements to improve energy efficiency are widening and becoming more stringent.

One of the latest measures from the Department of Climate Change requires sellers or lessors of office space of more than 2000m² to obtain and disclose "an up-to-date energy-efficiency rating" from November 1. In order to meet the requirements, computer simulations are used to make decisions about appropriate heating, cooling and lighting systems, insulation, glazing and other elements in the building fabric. The impact of using old weather data extends to the design of solar hot water systems, rooftop solar power systems, solar powered cars and wind turbines.

Anything that needs to be engineered based on precise climate data will be potentially affected, according to experts. Murray Mason, a mechanical engineer and industry leader in building services software for calculating energy consumption, said yesterday: "It is an absurd situation.

The climate has changed, but we cannot properly address it in terms of our energy use because we do not have the accurate weather data that would depict how it has changed. The objectives are good in trying to save energy but it has become a lot of window dressing because the data is so out of date it is 30 years old. Decisions about making buildings more energy efficient and the ratings they achieve are being made on inaccurate information".

The Department of Climate Change was severely criticised by the Australian National Audit Office for a litany of breaches, poor planning, budget blow-outs, questionable environmental outcomes and poor briefings to the then minister Peter Garrett. His successor, Greg Combet, declined to address concerns about the data yesterday. Mr Combet's spokesman said: "The minister has asked the department for advice on this matter". Newer weather data has been developed since 2004 by the former Australian Greenhouse Office but this was found to be faulty in key areas during testing by the US Department of Energy. The flawed newer data is also still in use.

Associate Professor Terry Williamson, a University of Adelaide based expert in thermal performance, said it was a serious failure of policy with widespread repercussions that the climate data is not up to date. "Climate data is a fundamental building block in the evaluation of of energy efficiency, but we have a situation where we cannot rely on the data because it is irrelevant in addressing a changing climate", he said. "We have a Department of Climate Change that is ignoring any climate change that may be happening in Australia. Without up-to-date weather data, we do not know whether design and investment decisions involving billions of dollars are being made correctly".