Rich drag chain on energy efficiency

Last updated 15:16 15/02/2013

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Wealthy folks are dragging the chain on energy efficiency and they couldn't care less, despite having the ability to make ''significant gains'', a new report from a Waikato University professor says.

The report is the first part of the Energy Cultures Research Project, a $1.05 million mission to investigate how society can adapt rapidly to achieve a low-energy, low-carbon future.

It focuses on household energy behaviour around space and water heating, which accounts for 60 per cent of all household energy use, and is the result of three years work by lead author and Waikato University law professor Barry Barton and a team of inter-disciplinary researchers from around the country.

It was launched at the National Energy Research Institute conference in Wellington on Thursday.

The report says wealthier kiwis, comprising about 20 per cent of the population, have an opportunity to make ''significant gains'' in energy conservation and efficiency.

They had higher energy use, paid little attention to improving energy efficiency at home, owned lots of appliances and had little regard for energy efficient practices.

''This cluster of households is generally wealthier and thus has fewer barriers than others to making efficiency improvements,'' the report says.

The report also tackles policy makers and says they could do a lot more to improve energy efficiency and conservation.

It echoes calls from other organisations, including the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty and the Government's own Green Growth Advisory Group, and says the country's energy policy framework should give ''a central place to energy efficiency''.

Mr Barton says improving the efficiency of our energy use would have positive spin-offs across the board.

''There are lots of changes we can make that would result in the use of energy far more effectively,'' he says.

''We would spend less on electricity, reduce our climate change emissions and get more results in terms of warm houses and the like.''

The report shows lower energy users - about 25 per cent of the population - tend to have substandard housing and inefficient energy technologies yet have ''very economical'' energy practices.

''This combination of circumstances tends to be aligned with cold, often damp, housing,'' it says.

While initiatives such as the Warm Up New Zealand programme helped, it needed to continue and include clean and efficient space and water heating.

The report also looked into issues faced by tenants - a growing proportion of the population.

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Addressing the lack of drivers for landlords to improve energy standards of rental properties should be a priority, it says.

Professor Barton says the report's release is timely given the current debate on affordable housing.

''If you build cheap houses you do pay a price in other ways.''

New Zealand houses are often cold and damp with little or no insulation so simply installing a heat pump does not fix the problem.

Power bills could go up while the heat being generated is easily lost.

Improving energy efficiency and conservation is about changing behaviour, Mr Barton says, ''but how people behave is complex''.

The material culture of a household ''seems to be more important than values or norms''.

Professor Barton and his team are now working on the second part of the Energy Futures Project - based at Otago University - looking at private (home and business) transport.

- (Live Matches)

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