Build energy efficiency into our recovery plans

Schneider Electric

By Gareth O’Reilly*
Friday, 29 January, 2021

Build energy efficiency into our recovery plans

After suppressing COVID-19, Australia faces two crucial challenges — the need to revive a crippled economy and the battle to confront climate change. Some may paint this as an either/or choice — it need not be if we identify stimulus measures which help cut CO2 emissions.

The CSIRO’s latest State of the Climate report confirmed the pandemic slowdown had reduced emissions, but not enough to reverse the trajectory of climate change. Last decade was the hottest on record and the next will be hotter still, with severe environmental consequences.

The climate debate in Australia is mired in divisiveness, even within our major political parties, with little sign of consensus around energy sources and pricing carbon. But there are initiatives we can take today to dramatically cut impact emissions and boost economic recovery.

The answer stands around us in the buildings where we live and work, buildings which produce more than a quarter of Australia’s emissions and provide our biggest opportunity to counter climate change. Many offices, factories and homes are energy inefficient, but available technology, incentives and new regulations could cut their emissions significantly.

Australia ranks last among developed nations on the International Energy Efficiency Scorecard — comparing the 25 largest energy users on performance and policies. Implementing basic energy efficiency improvements to Australian buildings will create tens of thousands of jobs and $7.7 billion in annual energy savings, according to the Energy Efficiency Council.

Retrofitting buildings to improve energy performance is a cost-effective way to reduce emissions. Proven, available technologies can deliver substantial reductions, lowering power bills and reducing peak demand on our electricity system.

At Schneider Electric we know how energy use can be more efficient. Every day we help companies be more efficient and more sustainable with digital solutions, including connected products, edge controls, services software and AI.

We undertook an energy upgrade at the MCG in 2017, cutting its energy use by a quarter — enough to power 1872 houses a year. At Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel, a digitally controlled and connected energy system has reduced its carbon footprint by a third.

Energy usage can be reduced in most office buildings by around 30%. The opportunities to cut power use, and bills, in homes are even greater.

Let’s implement the Australian Industry Group’s call to improve energy efficiency across housing, commercial buildings and manufacturing, and $500 million in grants to scale up the penetration of existing technology, including energy management systems and data analysis.

Our ability to reduce energy consumption is limited by a lack of information, which can be addressed by digital technology. The convergence of the Internet of Things and energy gives us a tremendous opportunity to tap the value of data to advance sustainability across buildings, industry and infrastructure.

Today, digital sensors are embedded in what was once regarded as ‘dumb’ equipment, such as machinery, appliances and heating systems. Advanced analysis enables them to operate much more efficiently.

The federal and state governments’ COAG Energy Council already has a plan for zero emissions buildings for Australia. We need to expand and accelerate the implementation of proposed changes to the National Construction Code, including energy standards and star ratings for all buildings and homes. For commercial buildings alone, policies identified by the Council could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 87.5 metric tons of carbon by 2050.

The existing rating system for office buildings, NABERS — which can measure energy efficiency and carbon emissions — should be expanded and applied across at least three new sectors next year, such as retail, industrial and school buildings, and be in place for all buildings by 2022.

Minimum energy efficiency standards should be required for new buildings and an energy performance audit needed for all property transactions. These measures will provide incentives for builders and building owners to invest in making buildings more energy efficient.

Let’s implement the COAG proposals for residential buildings, including energy efficiency requirements for renovations, a national framework for energy efficiency disclosure and expanding the home rating system to be a ‘whole-of-home’ rating tool. An energy rating should be required before any home is sold or leased.

Mandatory energy efficiency schemes across Australia for both existing and new buildings will stimulate the economy, and provide the groundwork for reskilling many workers in the newer technologies that are the future standard for construction.

Government should support businesses and households with grants or incentives to reduce their energy consumption. Construction stimulus projects should be required to meet minimum energy efficiency standards. And a program to subsidise energy retrofits of existing buildings would provide an immediate boost to the construction sector.

If we make these calls with an eye towards surviving our next looming crisis, we can accelerate out of COVID-19 with a more sustainable economy and a base to overcome climate change.

*Gareth O’Reilly is President, Pacific, of Schneider Electric.

Top image credit: ©

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