SA fails green code

In February, the Bush administration introduced tax incentives encouraging Americans to replace their house windows with ones that comply with conductance and solar heat gain standards.

United States local authorities that are plagued by power shortages have gone further, legislating energy-efficient building regulations. Those that haven’t get lambasted with headlines such as “Cincinnati has no standards for building green”.

South Africa doesn’t either. In 1977, when the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act was promulgated, South Africa had excess power-generation capacity. Electricity was cheap and plentiful, so legislating energy-efficient building standards seemed unnecessary.

But now that the country’s power-generation capacity has run out of its safety margin, the government has set the wheels of legislature in motion to amend building regulations to include energy-efficiency codes.

The story so far is that the Department of Minerals and Energy has requested the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to prepare energy-efficiency standards.

When the standards document development process is complete, the Department of Trade and Industry will be asked to amend the national building regulations to include energy-efficiency requirements. This will require an Act of Parliament.

The SABS technical committee has set up an energy subcommittee, which has, in turn, adopted two projects: South African National Standards (Sans) 204 and Sans 283.

Howard Harris, the interim chairperson of the Sans 204 committee, says the standards are a volunteer effort. He is not a full-time SABS employee, but a consultant who runs an energy services company, Structatherm Projects, who has been brought in as an outside expert to chair the committee.

“Sans 204 will cover the energy efficiency of buildings that are not passively environmental,” said Harris. “It will impose energy usage standards for commercial and retail establishments which are air-conditioned and artificially heated. All energy usage in the building will need to be designed to be suitably energy efficient.”

Harris said his committee has been fortunate in that its sponsor, the Department of Minerals and Energy, is supporting its work. Furthermore, Eskom, through its Demand Side Management campaign, is stimulating a market-driven initiative to encourage better electrical energy efficiency.

Nevertheless, things are progressing slowly with Sans 204. And its sister project appears to be moribund. Sans 283 falls under the Department of Housing, which seems to have more pressing concerns than energy-efficient building standards.

Sans 283 covers naturally ventilated buildings, Sans 204 limits itself to artificial environments.

Hans Schefferlie, executive director of the Association of Architectural Aluminium Manufacturers of Southern Africa, has attempted to stimulate public debate by issuing a discussion paper on what he would like to see in the new regulations.

“The electrical side is important, but we cannot ignore building envelopes,” said Schefferlie.

Better building envelopes has become the dominant theme in energy-efficiency drives in other countries. The US Department of Energy has a website devoted to this topic at www.eere.energy.gov/EE/buildings_envelope.html.

Schefferlie advocates that South Africa uses Building Code Australia as its template, since our climate is similar. Under the banner of the Thermal Insulation Association of Southern Africa, his association has separated South Africa into six climate zones, and published recommended specifications for wall, roof and ceiling construction.

His discussion document uses a typical South African house as an example, and shows that it scores very poorly in energy efficiency. “Judging from our study, it is perhaps safe to say that the window and door industry in South Africa is not environmentally friendly,” said Schefferlie.

“How to resolve it is another matter altogether. People resist change. Designers are comfortable with the current range of windows and door products. Builders love steel and timber, irrespective of the fact that these materials offer products of high maintenance and inferior air tightness when compared products such as aluminium.”

A key issue is whether energy efficient building should be left to the market or legislated. Harris’s view is that, as electricity gets more expensive, it will prod people into investing in energy efficiency.

“With power as cheap as it is, there has been no incentive. Now that electricity prices are likely to rise faster than inflation, things will change,” said Harris. “I can’t see the government here offering tax incentives as in the US. A market-driven approach will be more likely.”

Schefferlie says his experience indicates energy efficiency will only be taken seriously if the government legislates it.

“Eskom and our association did a campaign in Bloemfontein offering a 30% subsidy on house insulation. The response was negligible. Here we have house prices at record highs, people paying a fortune per square metre, but they are not willing to spend a cent on energy efficiency. It will only happen through legislation,” said Schefferlie.

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