Energy efficiency needs …more energy

6 May 2010 – This issue focuses on energy efficiency. It has to.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seems to have crumpled at the first post of climate change action like a paper horse. Did he ever believe climate change was anything more than a vote catcher? The benefit of the doubt has been extended. And expended.

Instead of an emissions trading scheme we get a muttered line about energy efficiency.

But what is that exactly? And how do we achieve it?

As Lynne Blundell says in her lead story, energy efficiency is just not sexy.

But it can be cheap to implement, it creates savings and can even turn a profit – the “negative costs” that McKinsey & Co identified in its seminal study on the sector.

Today we have ample providers of energy efficiency contracts who offer to carry the full financial risk of the measures they implement – that is, you are compensated if your building doesn’t achieve the promised savings. That’s money in the bank.

The providers are everywhere – Honeywell, Siemens, Cisco, Szencorp’s energy performance arm Energy Conservation Systems, Johnson Controls and Energetics – to name just a few, Blundell says in her article.

And we soon we will have mandatory disclosure galloping over Capital Hill, forcing owners of larger offices to disclose their energy rating.

But is this mechanism the sure-fire cannon in the war against climate change that will, it is often claimed, shame small property owners into a cleaner, greener building profile?

The general manager of energy and sustainability for Johnson Controls, Peter Moser, is highly doubtful. He says the big companies are already doing the best they can (publicly displaying their energy ratings on the NABERS website). But he says the owners of smaller buildings that make up balance of the market – and own about 80 per cent of the commercial office stock – quite frankly won’t give a damn.

So what if the office only rates 2 NABERS energy stars, he says. Their tenants might be ambulance-chasing lawyers on tight margins who care more about the cheap rent than environmental performance.

Moser asks the question that dare not speak its name in this industry: why wasn’t mandatory disclosure turned into mandatory performance, a bottom line of improvement or minimum standards?

No. Instead we have a fundamentalist religious-style commitment in the corridors of power to “voluntary” measures and market drivers.

We need to ask the Harvard Business School 101 question here: what is the outcome we are seeking to achieve in our strategy?

Is it to save the planet or to save the gold-plated pockets of those who … well … run the corridors of power?

No such voluntary market-driven choice was proposed when we started running out of water. Stuffing the air full of emissions is the same thing as running out of water – it will ruin our way of life and could kill us. This is not a dress rehearsal.

We can implement tough energy restrictions on households and even businesses – just as we did with water.

We can toughen up some imperatives and still keep a healthy –and even a booming – property sector, making squillions of dollars in the Great Sustainable Transformation.

Why not solar thermal?

Our Bathurst Burr Mike Mobbs wonders why we are not making solar thermal power a major outcome in our Business Strategy 101.

It would mean the end of energy-efficiency needs; we could gobble all the power we need or want, he points out.

But then, he muses, that would make a bit of a dent on the status quo of the energy efficiency industry, wouldn’t it? Bit cheeky our Burr…

Building Code goes greener – Section J
We recently brought you news of changes in the Building Code of Australia, which seeks to toughen up design in response to climate issues.

Now Gary Wertheimer a specialist in sustainable consulting, decodes the rules further, from a professional and technical point of view.

And they take some decoding. The Australian Building Codes Board seems to love technical words like “absorptance” and burying meaning deep within the jargon so that, as Gary Wertheimer says, you really need an expert like him to find out what is required before spending huge amounts of money designing for the wrong outcomes.

Let’s get the language right all round: state clearly that we are running out of time and set clear objectives before choosing the policy mechanism to achieve what we need.