The Research Node for Low Carbon Living has undertaken key research in climate-related issues; specifically those related to the capacity of low-carbon homes in dealing with Australia's extreme climates.

Research Projects

  • Coping with extremes, creating comfort: User experiences of ‘low-energy’ homes in Australia minus-thick plus-thick

    Low and net zero energy homes are core elements in transitioning the housing stock towards a more environmentally sustainable model that responds to concerns about climate change and the need for energy demand reduction. Whilst there is a growing body of work on the technical performance of these homes, less attention has been paid to the experiences of users, particularly in cooling-dominated climates.

    Drawing on interviews that utilise an oral history approach with householders in the Lochiel Park Green Village, this research explores changes in energy practices across housing histories in order to better understand the relationship between the occupant, the building and the resultant energy use.

    This research has revealed an ongoing dynamic of coping with extremes and attempting to create a thermally comfortable indoor environment. The householder accounts reveal a change over their lifetimes from a situation in which extremes of hot or cold were coped with through a range of adaptive practices, through the introduction of mechanical heating and cooling technologies which promised to reduce the need for adaptation, towards, in the case of Lochiel Park, an expectation that comfort is mostly provided by the house. Comfort has been transformed from an achievement of the householder to an attribute of the building.

    Sherriff, G., Moore, T., Berry, S., Ambrose, A., Goodchild, B., & Maye-Banbury, A. (2019). ‘Coping with extremes, creating comfort: User experiences of ‘low-energy’ homes in Australia.’ Energy Research & Social Science, 51, 44-54. doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2018.12.008

  • A framework for adaptation of Australian households to heat waves minus-thick plus-thick

    Climate change is leading to an increased frequency and severity of heat waves. Spells of several consecutive days of unusually high temperatures have led to increased mortality rates for the more vulnerable in the community. The problem is compounded by the escalating energy costs and increasing peak electrical demand as people become more reliant on air conditioning. Domestic air conditioning is the primary determinant of peak power demand which has been a major driver of higher electricity costs.

    This report presents the findings of multidisciplinary research which develops a national framework to evaluate the potential impacts of heat waves. It presents a technical, social and economic approach to adapt Australian residential buildings to ameliorate the impact of heat waves in the community and reduce the risk of its adverse outcomes. Through the development of a methodology for estimating the impact of global warming on key weather parameters in 2030 and 2050, it is possible to re-evaluate the size and anticipated energy consumption of air conditioners in future years for various climate zones in Australia. Over the coming decades it is likely that mainland Australia will require more cooling than heating. While in some parts the total electricity usage for heating and cooling may remain unchanged, there is an overall significant increase in peak electricity demand, likely to further drive electricity prices.

    The research identified that household electricity costs are likely to rise above what is currently projected due to the impact of climate change. Through a number of regulatory changes to both household design and air conditioners, this impact can be minimised. A number of proposed retrofit and design measures are provided, which can readily reduce electricity usage for cooling at minimal cost to the household.

    Using a number of social research instruments, it is evident that households are willing to change behaviour rather than to spend money. Those on lower income and elderly individuals are the least able to afford the use of air conditioning and should be a priority for interventions and assistance. Increasing community awareness of cost effective strategies to manage comfort and health during heat waves is a high priority recommended action.

    Overall, the research showed that a combined approach including behaviour change, dwelling modification and improved air conditioner selection can readily adapt Australian households to the impact of heat waves, reducing the risk of heat related deaths and household energy costs.

    Saman W., Boland J., Pullen S., Pocock B., Belusko M., Bruno F., Whaley D., Pockett J., Bennetts H., Ridley B., Palmer J., Zuo J., Ma T., Chileshe N., Skinner N., Chapman J., Vujinovic N., Walsh M., Miller W., de Dear R., Candido C., Deuble M., Soebarto V. (2013) ‘A framework for adaptation of Australian households to heat waves’, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast.

  • The recipe to create zero energy homes in warm temperate climates minus-thick plus-thick

    Building energy policy in many countries is firmly pointed towards a need for net zero energy homes. But given the limited range of operational energy impacts that can be directly influenced by building regulations, and the wide variation in energy use behaviours of building users, what system performance levels will be required to ensure new homes achieve that standard? This paper utilises in-home energy monitoring from a near net zero energy estate at Lochiel Park in South Australia to provide the evidence of the system performance needed for all major end-uses, for homes in warm temperate climates to achieve, on average, a net zero operational energy standard.

    The evidence presented points to the combination of passive solar design strategies, energy efficient appliances, and active solar systems that will lead to net zero energy performance given contemporary lifestyles and the impact of the digital age.  For the Building Code of Australia: increasing the thermal comfort standard from 6 NatHERS Stars to 7.5 NatHERS Stars; increasing the fixed lighting energy standard from a maximum 5 W/m2 to 3 W/m2; increasing the water heater standard from a minimum of 26 STCs to 40 STCs; and adding a minimum electricity generation (photovoltaic system) requirement equivalent to 2.75kWp plus 1.0kWp per each 100m2 of habitable floor area, will enable new homes to achieve, on average, an annual net zero delivered energy balance.

    Berry S., Whaley D., Saman W., Davidson K. (2014) 'Reaching to net zero energy: The recipe to create zero energy homes in warm temperate climates', Energy Procedia, doi: 10.1016/j.egypro.2014.12.372