Decarbonising the built environment: charting the transition

06 Jun 2019

This book focuses on the challenge that Australia faces in transitioning to renewable energy and regenerating its cities via a transformation of its built environment. Both are necessary conditions for low carbon living in the 21st century. This is a global challenge represented by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and the IPCC’s Climate Change program and its focus on mitigation and adaptation. All nations must make significant contributions to this transformation. This book highlights the new knowledge and innovation that has emerged from research projects undertaken in the Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living between 2012 and 2019 – an initiative of the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science and Technology that is tasked with responding to the UN challenges. Four principal transition pathways were central to the CRC and provide the thematic structure to this volume. They focus on technology, buildings, precinct and city design, and human behaviour – and their interactions.
Part I addresses key sociotechnical factors in the speed and trajectory of Australia’s energy transition, explores solar PV and the role it is now playing as a regenerative urban technology—creating energy from the city—and together with the emergence of electric vehicles and smart homes provides the basis for a wider transition to a green economy.
Transition to zero carbon buildings (Part II) is now established as a clear objective for industry by key national built environment sector organisations. Achieving that objective will require a step change in energy efficient building design—and assessment (as built and as operated) in the building and construction sector; higher standards for energy efficiency of built-in and plug-in appliances that will require regulation and audit; developing greater penetration of onsite solar generated electricity and hot water heating capacity; and increased energy conservation behaviours by building occupants, taking advantage of advances in smart meter and sensor technologies that provide real-time feedback of energy use to consumers. A staircase of innovations has been identified, each of which are associated with carbon wedges that can collectively deliver zero carbon outcomes, if implemented. Given the significant stock of existing buildings that are poor performing from an operating energy perspective, retrofitting also represents a major challenge in achieving a low carbon building sector.
Part III addresses the challenges of where and how to transition from currently unsustainable patterns of urban development to more regenerative forms of redevelopment in the established low-density suburbs of Australia’s cities where a suburban-to-urban transition is required. Compact city development and urban retrofitting needs to be accompanied by a radical reduction in the metabolic flows associated with cites—increasing their self-sufficiency in relation to energy,water and mobility while reducing their carbon emissions and waste to landfill. Particular focus is on the design principles necessary for creating sustainable low carbon resilient precincts that need to be coupled with precinct scale distributed regenerative technologies and smart city planning and management that utilises new digital tools for building, precinct and city information modelling.
Part IV explores factors that influence consumer decisions and the extent to which they are linked to attitudes, habits, practices, social and demographic conditions within households and built environment contexts. It investigates some potential approaches for shifting consumer choices, particularly in relation to housing-related decisions—given the significance of residential property in the economic and social lives of the Australian population and its role in CO2 emissions generation.
The fifth Part contains one chapter that summarises the principal findings from a major CRC Project that explored alternative visions of an urban future that is yet to materialise, but with potential 2040 realisations, depending on the success with which synergies between four different transition pathways could eventuate.