eTool LCA Software Updates – Summer 2014

EN15978 Compliance

The last few months have been hectic for our software development team. We brought the software into line with the European standard EN15978 – Sustainability of construction works – Assessment of environmental performance of buildings – Calculation method.  We undertook so eTool could be used to gain innovation credits in Green Star projects.  For out international audience, this is a environmental rating scheme managed by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Technically the update was a big challenge, EN15978 a very comprehensive standard with quite strict rules regarding how the LCA calculations should be conducted.  It’s a piece of work we planned back in 2012, we did need that little commercial push to undertake the change, and the opportunity to utilise eTool LCA for Green Star projects provided this.  We are really happy that we managed to complete this piece of work.  We really think the planet has a lot to benefit from through this standard, and hopefully through the use of eTool LCA.  Here’s some reasons:

  • EN15978 was written by CEN technical committee 350 who are also developing other standards to meet there overall mandate of delivering standards to holistically assess the sustainability of construction works.  This is really exciting.  It effectively draws a line in the sand and gives really solid guidance on how we should be assessing the buildings.  It includes social, economic and environmental considerations for sustainability.
  • A good Life Cycle Assessment is without doubt the best way to measure and improve the environmental performance of something.  This has been recognised by CEN TC 350 who have relied on it nearly exclusively for the environmental assessment of buildings.
  • CEN TC 350 also developed a standard for the assessment of building products.  These will be used by the new ECO EPD framework being developed in Europe which will align most of the major EPD Program operators.  Now this is exciting.  Finally, we have an international system that reports truly comparable data for construction products.  It’s equivalent to nutrition labelling for building products (substituting health info with environmental info).

All this means the stars are nicely aligning for low impact buildings.  There’s a huge opportunity to cut through the greenwash if industry uptakes this approach.  One of the things we love about this approach is it actually enables policy makers to set budgets in order to ensure we hit sustainability goals.  I’ve written about this concept and how it might be approached here.

Software Speed Improvements

Users during the last 12 months would have noticed that at times, particularly for very big designs, the software laboured.  It was getting pretty frustrating for our ops team who were working more and more on complex LCA models for large projects.  We’d delayed tackling this problem because it required a massive re-write of the back end.  There’s nothing worse than spending two months labouring on a software improvement project, then delivering the result which looks exactly the same!  It was a very nice change though, to give you an idea of the performance improvement, we had a large test design that was taking the best part of four minutes to save, now it’s taking just two seconds.  The big driver for this was actually to enable more features to be introduced to eTool LCA that would have otherwise slowed it down further.  There’s more coming!

Record Recommendations

This is probably  my favourite new feature.  It makes the job if modelling and tracking improvement ideas very easy.  I can honestly say this has enabled our operations team to significantly increase the research time we can allocate to identifying more improvement ideas.  Less time doing little admin tasks like copying and pasting data between eTool and spreadsheets, and more time focusing on reducing the impacts of the design.  All users need to do now is hit record, model the improvements, hit stop and every change to an impact due to that improvement will be recorded at different life cycle stages of the building.  And it’s recorded for every indicator too, so you can see how much carbon you saved verses how much money you saved.   I love using this feature.  Check it out.

Life Cycle Assessment – How eTool can help you achieve your goals

Leveraging off our extensive experience and skills and the power of the eTool LCA software, we can help push your project to global best practice – Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Below are some examples of the variety of ways eTool can help your project achieve its goals.


Option 1.

eTool as Consultants

The best results are achieved when you incorporate LCA at the early design phase of your projects. eTool can act as your own LCA specialists from start to finish ensuring you get expert advice all the way through. If your project is past the design phase, it’s not too late. Contact eTool now to get our specialists on board.

You’re not restricted to just working with us to embed LCA into your next project. To make it even easier to access there are now multiple eTool LCA trained assessors working within other organisations around the globe.

 

Option 2.

eTool as Software providers

If LCA is something you’d like to be doing in house then our software, “eTool LCA”, is what you’ve been looking for. The web based tool is free to access until you use it for commercial purposes. At this point you will need eTool “certify” your project through a ‘pay as you go’ style arrangement. There are a range of training and support subscription services created to best suit your needs.

 

Option 3.

eTool as both: Consultant & Software provider

If you’re unsure of whether you’d like to use a consultant or run with LCA in house, we can work with you as consultants through the first few projects until you are ready to make a decision. During that time, you’ll be able to gain insight in to the LCA process without wasting valuable time and will get maximum value out of our highly skilled team. Then, if you’d like to switch to performing LCAs in house, we can fully train your team on the software.

 

If none of the above quite suit your needs, eTool is happy to tailor a  proposal to fit your exact requirements. Please get in contact to discuss what you’re after to get your projects up to speed with the International Standard for sustainable design – LCA.

To get a basic understanding of costs for either us acting consultants or “certifications” please head to this page.

For more info, check out our FAQ page and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need further explanation or have any questions.

EN 15978

In 2011 the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) released a new standard for measuring the environmental sustainability of buildings.  We grabbed a copy of this standard, EN 15978 soon after it was published to understand how eTool stacked up against the requirements.  We breathed a sigh of relief, although we had a few things to tidy up, what we were happy with was that we actually needed to reduce the scope and system boundary of a normal eToolLCA to report to EN15978.

Background to EN15978

This standard was one of the first to be released by CEN Technical Committee 350.  It was part of a much broader project to fully define how to measure the sustainability of buildings.  Within TC 350 there were working groups determining how to measure a building’s:

  • Environmental Performance,
  • Social Performance, and
  • Economic Performance.

Impressive.  The full suite of sustainability covered under one set group of standards.  And it doesn’t stop there, there are also working groups covering civil works and construction products.  Incredibly, they are making very good headway through this arduous scope with 8 standards already published and another four under development.  EN15978 is the key to measuring the environmental pillar of sustainability.

How Does it Work?

Well, it’s kind of complex you have to read the detail of the standard, and a good number of the standards referenced.  That said, we will summarise as best we can.  The basic philosophy is to rely 100% on LCA as the method of measuring environmental performance.  So there is hence a heavy reliance on ISO 14040, 14044 and 14025 which eTool LCA software also heavily draws on.  The standard gives guidance on how to apply LCA to buildings.  It effectively defines the goal, scope and method for LCA practitioners working on buildings.

The System Boundary

The diagram below shows the system boundary of EN 15978 is shown below.  For existing users of eTool LCA, or those who rely on eTool ratings, our standard system boundary is also shown.  We think the EN 15978 have essentially done a fantastic job putting this together (with a few exceptions we discuss below).

EN 15978 and eTool LCA Normal System Boundary

EN 15978 and eTool LCA Normal System Boundary

The largest omission from the system boundary is what EN15978 calls “non building related energy use”.  They essentially include HVAC, domestic hot water and lighting but exclude all other energy used within the building.  This makes sense at first glance, after all, these areas are certainly the most heavily influenced by the building designers, and other energy use is very heavily occupant driven.  There are however some strong arguments for including all energy used within the building, a few of which are listed below:

  • A building designer can influence occupant behaviour, and as such these aspects should be considered by architects and engineers, for example:
    • Energy monitoring has been proven to influence occupant behaviour in both commercial and residential buildings and should be considered by the design team
    • In residential buildings, energy use per occupant generally drops off with higher occupants per dwellings due to the base loads (refrigeration, living area entertainment, standby loads, lighting and heat losses from hot water systems) being spread between more occupants.  Buildings that allow and encourage more occupants per dwelling will (all else being equal) use less energy per occupant, and hence should be differentiated.
    • In commercial buildings, an integrated fit out of work stations can have huge positive impacts on energy use through the use of central servers for data storage and processing and mini computers at work stations drawing very little power.  A seamless implementation of such systems may require architectural and engineering consideration during the design of the building so should be factored.
  • Building integrated renewable energy systems should if possible be sized to meet the entire load of the building, not just the base building loads, so designers should be aware of the entire loads.
  • Developers can have a large influence on the building performance (at least initially) through the final fit out of appliances (residential) and work stations (commercial) so this should be within scope so we don’t drop the ball on this opportunity.
  • Vertical transport (elevators, escalators etc) for medium rise buildings can be heavily influenced by design:
    • The building envelope needs to cater for the most efficient plant geometrically
    • The use of stairs or ramps should be encouraged through design to reduce reliance on plant
    • The building electrical systems should be designed to cater for regenerative drives etc
  • Communicating the total impact of buildings without accounting for occupant energy use is very misleading.  Imagine moving into a building marketed as ‘energy neutral’ building only to find your power bill only drops 25%

Environmental Indicators

The suggested list of reported indicators is quite comprehensive for EN15978 and is shown in the below summary table:

 EN15978 Indicators

EN15978 does state that not all indicators need to be reported, but the documentation must specify the reasons for omission.  Interestingly toxicity, land use, biodiversity are missing from the above list.  The standard states that this is due to there being no scientifically agreed calculation method within the context of LCA for these indicators.  We’ll watch this space as we know some of these missing indicators are of great interest to many users of eTool.

EN 15978 and eTool LCA

After we read EN15978, we documented the required changes, pushed them into our product roadmap we got back to other work.  It wasn’t for another year though before it hit us how important this standard was.  All of a sudden, we weren’t “those guys from Western Australia who think they’ve nutted out how to truly improve the environmental performance of buildings”, EN15978 established that LCA was indeed the most appropriate tool for profiling green buildings.  Standards such as this one lend huge credibility to solutions like eTool that were released prior to the standard.  We were definitely barking up the right tree when we naively stood in front of the cameras on the ABC’s New Inventors and demonstrated the humble beginnings of eTool!

The recent uptake of LCA by the Green Building Council of Australia in their Greenstar tool heavily references  EN15978.  This has prompted us to build a suite of reports that are compliant with the standard, and those it references.  Importantly, we’re not going to remove any functionality form eTool, or contract the scope or system boundary.  Users will simply have the opportunity to report to either the EN15978 scope or the more expansive eTool LCA scope.  Similarly we’ll continue to upload more indicators into eTool LCA, our focus for the next 12 months will be plugging the gaps for EN15978 reporting.  There’s likely to be a lot of low hanging fruit here, and some trickier ones that may take some additional programming so we’re not entirely sure when we’ll be reporting on all 22 indicators just yet.  Our reports will be compliant with EN15978 though by still listing these additional indicators with “INA” (Indicator Not Assessed) in place of the calculated values which is accepted in the standard.  We’ll also allow users to report indicators currently available in eTool that aren’t required by EN15978.  Our general position on indicators is that global warming is our biggest environmental problem and hence our main efforts will continue to focus on solving this.

eTool and Internet Explorer

We’re pushing the envelope a little with what’s possible for web based software and Microsoft Internet Explorer has been a pretty challenging for us, it seems that we fix it up to work in one version, and those fixes break something in another version.  Needless to say, if you’re happy using safari, chrome, firefox or basically any other browser by MS Internet Explorer you shouldn’t have any issues.  If you’re stuck with MS IE, or love using it, here’s the work around for using the eTool app…

eTool LCA Software Updates – Spring 2013

eTool is always busy in the background updating the libraries available to users.  Lately we’ve ramped up the activities in a big with with some major updates to our libraries.  Even more exciting is that we’re improving the functionality of eTool with some big software development projects.  I thought I’d take some time to update you.

Library Updates

Earlier in the year we conducted a large LCA study on a cutting edge development in the UK, One Brighton.  The study was commissioned by Bio Regional who run the One Planet Living sustainable living framework.  We will be publishing the results of this study before the end of the year.  During the modelling we adapted a pretty cool approach to modelling the UK Benchmarks where we morphed a number of different density buildings, based on the new build mix, to create a weighted average density and size building.  Our previous approach to this was to pick the most popular density building and adjust it’s size and other characteristics appropriately.  We liked the new approach so have also applied that to Australia.  This was timely as the density mix in Australia is also changing pretty dramatically as we embrace higher density living, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne (Sydney is now building more apartments and semi-detached dwellings than detached).  The new residential benchmarks are loaded up into the eTool Library read to compare your project against.  We’re also working on some office building benchmarks also, and looking into community buildings.  Watch this space!

Out templates library is also undergoing a bit of an overhaul.  There’s more to come but essentially we’ve be consolidating the current templates library and adding new templates where needed.  This will be an eternally evolving project and we have some really cool ideas about how users can share templates that we’re mocking up at the moment with implementation in mind.

Our materials, transport, equipment and energy databases are about to get an overhaul to.  You may have heard the GBCA has introduced credits for LCA.  Some of the indicators they’ve chosen weren’t being tracked by eTool so we’re in the process of updating this data.  Some interim updates have been performed including updating electricity grid coefficients to match the latest NGERs figures in Australia, and updates to some water grid figures (notably Perth to account for the increasing reliance on desalination).

Software Updates

Some big projects are now underway to take the eTool software to the next level.  See our product road map to get an understanding of the long term goals.  The focus is on aligning eTool with relevant international standards (in particular EN15978).  In the process we’re also fixing bugs along the way and generally improving the user experience.  Recent or impending improvements are listed below.

Functionality

Improved speed for the app.  You may have noticed that working on large designs the app started to labour a bit, or a lot if you were working on really big designs.  We’ve cut the save / clone time down by 75% which although is a good start is just the tip of the iceberg, we’re aiming to get a 95% improvement in performance in speed through a project that is revolutionising the back end of eTool.  I won’t go into the details, I’ll just say it’s a big project but is going to pay big dividends to users.

We’ve also changed the UI a little. Projects will soon be listed more conveniently (most recent on the top of the list when you log in).  There’s a big expansion in functionality for documenting project recommendations and our reports are about to get some serious attention also.

Bug Fixes

A few pesky bugs have also been fixed:

  • All design details now clone properly
  • Custom template details now clone properly
  • Reports on a design can be seen by all users accessing that design
  • Updates to certificate calculations to include PV generation and limit overall rating when gold savings aren’t achieved in both embodied and operational categories

 

eToolLCD Expressions

eToolLCD V2 introduced some pretty neat functionality that allows users to enter “expressions” into some fields in a similar way formulas are used in a spreadsheet. This is particularly useful for building operational energy templates, for example, based on building size or occupancy. We have used a third party calculation library to enable this functionality, the list of available operators and functions is available here.

This functionality has dramatically improved the ease at which we can predict operational energy in designs and we’re enjoying using it here at eTool. We will be adding more stored variables as time passes, watch this space. To learn how to utilise this functionality, please get in touch for some training.

We also have a number of variables that relate to the design and can be used in expressions. The list of these is provided below. The default values that are used in library template calculations before loading into a design, or when a variable is left blank. The full list of variables is here:

NameUnitCodeDefault ValueModel LevelCategoryDescription
Annual Data TransmittedTBDT100,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Data Transmitted
Annual Energy GeneratedkWhEG100,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Energy Generated
Annual Energy StoredkWhES1,000,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Energy Stored
Annual Energy TransmittedkWhET1,000,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Energy Transmitted
Annual Freight ThroughputtFT100,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Freight Throughput
Annual Horizontal Infrared RadiationWh/m2Sol_H6,500ProjectAnnual Horizontal Infrared Radiation
Annual Operating HourshrsOH2,000FunctionAttributeAnnual operating hours of the building for its intended functional use.
Annual Passenger Throughput#PT60,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Passenger Throughput
Annual Standard Axles#SA600,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Standard Axles
Annual Throughput Volumem3TV6,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Throughput Volume
Artificially Lit Aream2ALA1,200FunctionServicesArea artificially lit
Average Ambient Temperature Whilst CoolingDegrees CACT35DesignHiddenAverage ambient temperature whilst cooling weighted for heating times and loads
Average Ambient Temperature Whilst HeatingDegrees CAHT5DesignHiddenAverage ambient temperature whilst heating weighted for heating times and loads
Average Daytime Occupancyhrs/dayDTO8DesignHiddenAverage daytime occupancy hours for the building
Average Nighttime Occupancyhrs/dayNTO8DesignHiddenAverage nighttime occupancy hours for the building
Average water Inlet TemperatureDegrees CIWT15ProjectAverage Water Inlet Temperature
Bedrooms#BR3FunctionAttributeNumber of bedrooms
Beds#BE25FunctionAttributeBeds
Cooling LoadMJ/m2/AnnumCL900FunctionServicesCooling load required of mechanical HVAC plant to control building temperature
Data Storage CapacityTBDS10,000FunctionAttributeData Storage Capacity
Default Indoor Illumination RequirementLxLTA900FunctionServicesDefault illumination intensity required in the building
Direct Solar RadiationWh/m2Sol_D7,000ProjectDirect Solar Radiation
Durability Life ExpectancyyearsDLE100DesignDurability life expectancy which does not account for redevelopment pressure
Dwellings#DW1FunctionAttributeNumber of dwellings (or tenancies) in the building
Energy Monitoring Adjustment Factor0%EMAF1ProjectEnergy monitoring adjustment factor for consumption rates
Expected OccupantsyearsO10DesignExpected occupancy of the building
Expected Service LifeyearsLE50DesignExpected Service Life
Fully Enclosed Covered Aream2FECA1,200FunctionAreaThe sum of all such areas at all building floor levels, including basements (except unexcavated portions), floored roof spaces and attics, garages, penthouses, enclosed porches and attached enclosed covered ways alongside buildings
Gross Floor Aream2GFA1,400FunctionAreaThe sum of the Fully Enclosed Covered Area and Unenclosed Covered Area as defined
Heating LoadMJ/m2/AnnumHL900FunctionServicesHeating load required of mechanical HVAC plant to control building temperature
Indoor thermostat set point (Summer)Degrees CICT24DesignHiddenIndoor thermostat set point during summer
Indoor thermostat set point (winter)Degrees CIHT20DesignHiddenIndoor thermostat set point during winter
Land Aream2LA2,000ProjectLand associated with the building project (footprint of building, parking and landscaping)
LengthkmLN10FunctionAttributeLength
Life Cycle Bed - Nights#LCBNCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Bed - Nights
Life Cycle Data TransmittedTBLCDTCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Data Transmitted
Life Cycle Energy GeneratedkWhLCEGCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Energy Generated
Life Cycle Energy StoredkWhLCESCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Energy Stored
Life Cycle Energy TransmittedkWhLCETCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Energy Transmitted
Life Cycle Freight Distancet.kmsLCFDCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Freight kms
Life Cycle Freight ThroughputtLCFTCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Freight Throughput
Life Cycle Occupant HourshrsLCOHCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife cycle operating hours of the building for its intended functional use.
Life Cycle Passenger Distance#.kmsLCPDCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Passenger kms
Life Cycle Passenger Throughput#LCPTCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Passenger Throughput
Life Cycle Standard Axles#LCSACalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Standard Axles
Life Cycle Throughput Volumem3LCTVCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Throughput Volume
Life Cycle Workload Unit Distance#.kmsLCWLUDCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Workload Unit kms
Life Cycle Workload Units (1p = 100kg)#LCWLUCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Workload Units (1p = 100kg)
Lighting LuxlxLX150FunctionServicesSpeficied light requirements of the lit area
Lighting Runtimehrs / yearLRT2,500FunctionServicesAnnual lamp run time
Mechanical Ventilation Runtimehrs / yearMRT2,500FunctionServicesAnnual operating hours of mechanical ventilation system
Net Lettable Aream2NLA1,000FunctionAreaThe sum of all lettable areas within a commercial type office building
Pavement Aream2PA62,500,000FunctionAttributePavement Area
Project Occupancy#P_O10ProjectOccupancy of the entire project
Storage Volumem3SV2,000FunctionAttributeStorage Volume
Stories#ST1DesignNumber of stories (or levels) in the building
Tenancies#TE1FunctionAttributeNumber of tenancies
Treated Area - Coolingm2CA900FunctionServicesInternal area conditioned by mechanical HVAC plant equipped to cool
Treated Area - Heatingm2HA900FunctionServicesInternal area conditioned by mechanical HVAC plant equipped to heat
Treated Area - Mechanical Ventilationm2MA1,000FunctionServicesInternal area conditioned by mechanical HVAC plant equipped to heat
Unenclosed Covered Aream2UCA200FunctionAreaThe sum of all such area at all building floor levels, including roofed balconies, open verandahs, porches, porticos, attached open covered ways alongside buildings, undercrofts and useable space under buildings, unenclosed access galleries (including ground floor) and any other trafficable covered areas of the building which are not totally enclosed by full height walls
Usable Floor Aream2UFA1,000FunctionAreaFully enclosed building area
Vacancy Rate0%VR0FunctionAttributeVacancy Rate
Vehicle Spaces#VS40FunctionAttributeVehicle Spaces
Work Stations#WS2FunctionAttributeNumber of workspaces and/or bedrooms in the building

GBCA Introduces “Life Cycle Assessment”

As part of the “Green Star 2014” program of works the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has announced the launch of two Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) based “Innovation Challenges”. Providing up to 8 points in the Green Star Innovation category, the challenges will encourage the industry to incorporate Whole of Building  LCA (6 points) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) (2 points) into new and registered Green Star projects.

This is a fantastic development for the Green Building industry, the owners/occupants of the buildings and ultimately the environment. Whole of Building LCA provides a brilliant platform to understand the total ecological footprint of a building, facilitate ease of comparison against alternative designs and ultimately find ways to improve the final outcome of the project.

While forming the basis of the British and European standard for calculating environmental impacts of buildings (BS EN 15978:2011), LCA is now rapidly propagating into the industry as can be seen with its incorporation into BREEM, LEED, and now Green Star.

The integration of LCA within Green Star will provide an opportunity for organisations to get up to speed and ahead of the pack as LCA becomes mainstream.

Under the “Life Cycle Assessment: Material Lifecycle Impacts” “Innovation Challenge” a project will be potentially eligible for 6 points by conducting a Whole of Building LCA

  • 4 points for realising an improvement across four environmental impact categories in comparison to a theoretical benchmark building
  • 1 point for comparison against a real example building of similar function
  • 1 point for including an additional five impact categories in the analysis

For more details on these exciting “Innovation Challenges” please head to this link

With almost four years of delivering Whole of Building LCA’s and developing LCA software, eTool is well positioned to assist organisations looking to capitalise on this new “Innovation Challenge”.  Our proven, streamlined, accurate and cost effective process gets results and makes Whole of Building LCA easy.

eTool is able to provide “eTool LCA” software and training within your organisation, enabling you to either conduct your own LCA’s or our engineers can consult with your team to complete LCA’s on your behalf.

We anticipate that projects aiming for “five star”, and in some cases “four star” ratings, will find improvements in the required LCA environmental impacts readily achievable. This, combined with the simple and cost effective eTool LCA process, will enable access to up to 6 points in an economical fashion.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss the technical details of the “Innovation Challenge” or would like to see how eTool can assist with your Green Star project.

eTool congratulates GBCA on this exciting development and looks forward to assisting in the process of making buildings better.

 

eTool Residential Benchmark For Australia

Before getting into the nitty gritty, it’s important to understand the purpose of the eTool benchmarks, which is:

  • Establish a common measuring stick against which all projects are assessed so that any report is comparable to another (for the same type of project).
  • Create a starting point, or “average, business as usual case” from which to measure improvements.

The benchmarks are not an average of existing stock but rather an average of new stock. Hence any efficiency requirements etc in the Building Codes etc are taken into account. When comparing to the benchmark, the target is pretty simple. Effectively Australia has to drop it’s GHG emissions by about 90-95% on a per capita basis for us to become sustainable global citizens. With this in mind, what we should be trying to do is drop our building’s emissions by 95% against the benchmark to ensure the building is stabilising the climate.

Creating the business as usual benchmark is pretty complex. For residential buildings in Australia there is a broad density mix from detached through to apartments. This is the latest breakdown of the new dwellings density mix in Australia (from ABS) over the last two years:

DetachedSemi DetachedLow Rise ApartmentsHigh Rise Apartments
Proportion of New Dwellings61%13%7%19%

For each of these density types, eTool have formulated a BCA code compliant building. We have then created a nominal statistical mix of  floor areas to match the average new dwelling size in Australia (214m2). In this way we come up with a “dwelling” that is a mix of densities and matches the size of the average Australian dwelling.

A similar approach is taken for operational energy. In this case we first research the most up to date residential energy estimates for Australia.  This data comes from ABARE Energy in Australia 2012. It gives us guidance on the total energy used per household (existing housing stock) in Australia and also the fuel mix split (electricity, gas, wood etc). We then use other end use percentage estimates to determine where this energy is being used in the dwellings.  The most commonly quoted breakdown of household energy use in Australia is from the “Your Home Technical Manual” which is actually a reference to the “Energy Use in the Australian Residential Sector, 2008”.  This report is commonly referred to as the “Base line report”.  This report itself actually states:

The study identified a paucity of end-use data for residential energy use in Australia, particularly in regional areas. Some of the appliance energy consumption estimates used in this study rely on research that is 15 years old or, alternatively, on work undertaken in New Zealand. 

The study recommends an comprehensive end use energy monitoring program which we believe is being undertaken. Until the results are out we’re a feeling our way in the dark a little.  Not withstanding this, the study is useful to guide the decisions about where we’re using our energy. To verify the Base Line Report figures we also took some state government studies (eg Sustainable Energy Development Office in WA) and statistics from other countries (notably the BRANZ HEET study and also stats from the US). The largest unexplained discrepancy seems to be in the estimates for heating demand.

The Base Line Report suggests that 38% of total end use energy in Australia homes is dedicated to heating and cooling purposes.  This seems very high given the following facts:

  • The comprehensive HEET study from BRANZ in New Zealand (a much colder climate, and one dominated by heating requirements) only calculated 34% of end use energy dedicated to thermal performance.
  • The WA SEDO estimate for thermal comfort energy demand is also much less, hence it’s hard to believe the additional demand is due to cooling.
  • A large percentage of Australia’s population (Perth, Sydney and Brisbane) all live in quite mild or warm climates where heating would not make up more than 50% of the thermal control energy demand (and less still of the actual end use energy demand)
  • Heating is the most end use energy intensive thermal comfort mode as cooling typically utilises either apparent cooling methods (evaporative or fans) or heat pumps, both of which have effective Coefficient’s of Performance of 2.5 or more. This means for every one unit of energy input, 2.5 units (or more) of heat is dissipated of pumped from the dwelling when cooling. Heating on the other hand requires more energy than the actual heat load demand theoretically required to heat a space (or at least the same amount). This is mainly due to flue losses.

The high estimate in the Base Line Report may be linked back to the ABARE Energy stats which are also questionable. The Energy in Australia 2012 document from ABARE gives a biomass figure for residential energy use that equates to 6280MJ / household /annum.  When this is calculated in terms of mass of wood, it works out at 400kg of timber per household in Australia.  Even if one in every 5 houses (studies suggest it’s more like one in every 10) is using a wood heater that was their primary source of heat, that’s 2t of wood per annum they would need to be burning in order for the ABARE data to reconcile. To give you an idea, an average small box trailer full of wood is about 250kg. We’re not convinced there’s 2 million households in Australia receiving 8 trailers of wood per annum to heat their homes. The BRANZ HEET study further supports the proposition that ABARE have overestimated biomass consumption in the Australian residential sector.  BRANZ calculated that each wood heater uses 4,500kWh (one tonne) of wood per annum.

Without making any adjustments to either the end use demand figures, or the top down supply figures the numbers don’t reconcile very well. For example, trying to “fit” the biomass, gas and LPG energy into the end use break down “squeezes” electricity out of the hot water and space heating categories. There simply isn’t enough low grade heat requirements in dwellings to account for all the biomass. However, when we aligned the biomass use predictions with BRANZ, and adjusted the demand figures to better match some of the competing studies we got good reconciliation.

This also supports the total residential demand estimate in the Base Line Report which is quite a bit lower than the ABARE stats.

Once we knew the amount of energy the existing housing stock were using, we then determine how this would differ in new dwellings.  Some energy use would remain pretty static (eg appliance use and refrigeration). Lighting, hot water and heating and cooling have relatively new BCA code requirements focussed on energy efficiency. For these end categories appropriate adjustments were made to account for the newer technologies and associated demand.

Heating and Cooling (Thermal Control)

The heating and cooling energy requirements are the most complex, as there are very few stats on what equipment is being deployed in new houses. The NatHERS system does help this situation and we make an estimate of the deployment of heating and cooling technologies in the current housing stock as follows:

  1. Estimate the heating verse cooling loads for buildings in the top 20 populous NatHERs climate zones (85% of Australia’s population). This works out to be 60% heating and 40% cooling.  
  2. Estimate the efficiency of each type of heating and cooling technology
  3. Estimate the deployment of each type of heating and cooling technology
  4. Adjust estimates such that total energy consumption matches our adjusted ABARE figures and the split in thermal demand matches the NatHERs weighted average for Australia

This then informs our decisions about what people are likely to choose for new houses.  The summary is found in the following tables:

Electric Heat PumpElectric Fans or Evaporative Coolers
Existing Stock Cooling Demand50%50%
New Housing Stock Cooling Demand60%40%

Electric Heat PumpElectric RadiatorsGas FluedGas Internal HeaterWood Heaters
Existing Stock Heating Demand20%10%17%51%2%
New Housing Stock Heating Demand35%0%20%40%5%

For each major BCA climate zone or population centre then simply divide the NatHERs energy demand estimates for a 6 star dwelling for the building between these categories and apply appropriate efficiency or COP figures to determine what the end use energy demand will be.

Hot Water

The building codes have now banned the use of electric resistance storage hot water systems in all residential buildings apart from class 2 building (strata buildings). Some state governments also discourage the use of electric heaters in class 2 buildings. This has led to a huge shift from electric storage hot water heaters to gas, solar, and heat pump units. This is a great thing for reducing the carbon intensity of the delivered hot water to dwellings (see more explanation on hot water fuel types here).

Using the same reconciling procedure between the end use energy estimates and the adjusted ABARE data we get the following mix of fuel uses for meeting demand in Australian existing housing stock:

Fuel Contribution to Water Heating Demand of Existing StockFuel Contribution to Assumed Water Heating Demand of New Stock
Natural Gas and LPG77%79%
Electric15%13%
Solar8%8%

Note, this doesn’t imply that 77% of water heaters are gas fired, it implies that 77% of energy used by water heaters is gas. The difference is that gas water heaters have lower efficiencies than electric resistance heaters (99%) or heat pumps (approximately 270%). With a gas water heater, depending on the age of the heater, it may be as low as 50%, and won’t get much better than 85%. So the mix of heaters installed in existing buildings is actually more slanted towards electric.

New buildings will tend more towards gas due to the current BCA requirements. With this in mind, we’ve used the figures in the right hand column for the split in fuel use for new dwellings.

eTool LCA Software Updates – Autumn 2013

eTool LCA has been getting a bit of attention lately, and there’s some changes in the wind so we thought we would update everyone. An update on updates! Most of the recent changes have been updates to our libraries which are now getting pretty extensive.

New Electricity Grids

We’ve added a number of new electricity grids to our library to extend the reach of eTool LCA. The data was gained from public information which varied in quality, however where there was a discrepancy between reported direct emissions CO2 intensity, the fuel mix was updated to ensure consistency. Transmission and distribution losses are also accounted for for each individual grid, and upstream emissions associated with provision of fuels to power plants etc.

  • Ten new US grids including: Alaska, Florida, Hawai, Midwest RO, Mid East States, Northeast PCC, South East States, South West PP, Texas and Western ECC.  
  • Thirteen new European grids including: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Austria, Romania

At present in eTool software for life cycle cost calculations the electricity prices are linked to a grid, in development we are going to split this so that each grid can have a number of tariffs. We’ll also be introducing some functionality that enables a default grid to be selected at the project level to avoid the painful process of updating the grids after an operational energy template has been added.

New Water Grids

With the introduction of fresh water use as an indicator in eTool LCA, users now have the ability to calculate and compare the water footprints of their designs (embodied and operational). Further to this, the other impacts associated with water supply (take energy and CO2e to pump and treat water) are automatically calculated for users that add water use to the mix. The labelling of the “Demand” column in the operational energy section of eTool LCA is very clunky at the moment (the units state MJ or kL as we’ve got both energy use and water use in the same list) and we plan to separate this out into a new section on the design home page. In the meantime though, we’re excited about the ability to measure impacts associated with water supply and treatment and as of July 1st 2013 these impacts will be included in the standard eTool LCA scope. We’ve run some testing and there are some significant changes to the life cycle impact assessments results (particularly residential).

New Materials

Our LCA of One Brighton for BioRegional in the UK prompted a bit of an overhaul of our materials database, we’ve added a number of new material categories and individual materials (about 100 in total so too many to list). These new updates were a mix of generic LCA data (for example, much more granularity in blast furnace slag and fly ash concrete mixes) and EPD data. We’re happy to say that adding the EPD data was pretty straightforward and we’re now well and truly open for business for materials manufacturers who want to add materials to the eTool LCA database. Our stance on data quality at the moment is that as long ast he EPD has been registered with a reputable EPD program operator we will likely enter it into eTool software.  Longer term, once Europe releases the product category rules for the EcoEPD project, this is likely the methodology we will adopt. At that point we’ll give materials suppliers a 12 month grace period to update their data sets to match this standard.

Upcoming Changes:

As of 1st July 2013 we’ll be changing the way we account for a few things in eTool LCA. These changes are to ensure the decisions being driven by eTool LCA are robust. After all, it’s always been our goal that eTool LCA is used as early in the design phase as possible to make positive changes to designs, we don’t want it to be post mortem that just highlights lost opportunities!

The most significant changes will be the forward counting of electricity grid intensity figures. At present eTool LCA assumes the grids will maintain their current mix of fuels for the life of the buildings which is a very pessimistic forecast for the planet. Potentially in an LCA on buildings drawing from fossil fuel dominated electricity grids, this puts perhaps too much emphasis on reducing the use of electricity at the expense of increased gas use or additional embodied impacts. For this reason we’re going to account for depreciating fossil fuel.

Want to give eTool LCA a go? Register for your free account today!

The Secret to Solar PV versus Solar Thermal

With so much sunshine in Australia, solar power is one of the most popular renewable energies for residential buildings. So our clients often ask us which system is the least carbon intensive and best for their budget – solar PV or solar thermal.

In this article and presentation Pat offers some key considerations to help you make a sound decision when choosing between the two technologies. Read more >>