Truth, lies and power struggles

2  September 2011 – We had an interesting conversation with engineering consultant Steve Hennessy this week about his role as facilitator of a recent Property Council of Australia forum in Sydney on the tricks and traps of trigeneration.

Key speakers at the forum were Craig Roussac of Investa, Colin Reay of GPT and David Twigg of Ausgrid.

A fascinating insight, already pointed to by Roussac with Investa’s Coca-Cola Place in North Sydney is that it seems many tri-gen plants are over-specified. In other worst they are way bigger than they need to be for the energy load required (now that’s an unusual trap for engineers to fall into, isn’t it?).

What happens is that the “kit” or plant uses way more energy to run than it’s supposed to save.

“It’s a bit like going up a big hill in fifth gear,” Roussac said.

We are starting to hear from some of our secret squirrels that for this reason many such plants are simply lying dormant. (At least they collected some additional green stars for their owners before shutting down, right?)

Investa solved this same problem it found itself with at North Sydney by the symbolic connection of the trigen energy to another of its buildings across the harbour, at 126 Phillip Street in the CBD, which meant the kit could run at full capacity and capture the benefits.

How NABERS Energy rating system handles the “greener” quota of energy in that CBD building will be interesting since it currently demands that green energy be separately accounted for when it bought from an off site location.

Hennessy says this is a big and growing dilemma: how do you deal with the need to use greener energy if you don’t have enough wind or solar power on your site? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to generate energy off site and say your building is powered by the wind farm you just invested in? And what will NABERS say about that in the future? And what does it mean for the thermal design of the building?

Right now NABERS requires two separate ratings, one with and one without green energy. (The differences are stark. A glance at the NABERS website to see the ratings that apply to some of our biggest corporates is as entertaining as anything you will find in the property world. )

Another thing that is not so well known is that the energy grid is not a generic one-size-fits-all grid that you can feed with any old type of green energy. It’s rather temperamental, it seems, and prone to bursts of outrage (or outage?) if too much renewable energy is pumped into it at the wrong time.

This apparently accounts for much of the secret energy men’s business that has led to a wall of obfuscation in the recent past when well meaning engineers have tried to implement renewable energy plans in buildings.

Hennessy says the game has changed. It is clear the energy authorities are now much more conciliatory and open to new ideas.  It’s most encouraging, he says.

By the way an item in the papers this week said the need for new infrastructure to handle the extra loads of energy, at least in NSW, has now been pushed back a few times, in part because of the amount of solar energy being pushed into the grid. (So we drop the feed-in tariffs, right?)

In any case it is a good bit of news that renewables are making an impact amidst the dross of politics and share prices right now.

Training and education

Hennessey happened to mention to during our talk that he was one of several property people who had recently completed a carbon management course through Carbon Training International.

Executive chairman the company, Bruce Thomas, says that since the start of the year the company has rolled out the courses to more than 200 people from various parts of business life.

While the focus has so far been in Sydney, the courses will soon become available in regional areas from Newcastle to Albury and Orange as part of an agreement with the NSW Government which is part funding the courses.

Thomas said the courses are part technical and part strategic. He believes that eventually every business in Australia will soon have to acquire some understanding of how to negotiate a path through a carbon constrained world – rising cost of energy included.

“Essentially the course is around energy efficiency, using carbon emissions as a metric for energy use. It’s a technical course to a degree but not overly,” Thomas says.

The company has six full time staff, about a dozen trainees and four admin support staff and it’s stretched to capacity. Demand he says is growing “pretty rapidly.”

Overall he says, “the skills are a requirement for every business driven by the cost of energy increases, particularly larger businesses and particularly in the retail, sector. What the life cycle analysis and carbon content of a particular product is will become core business for virtually everyone in Australia.”

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard might be under pressure right now but it sure didn’t look that way to the guests at the opening of 1 Bligh Street in Sydney on Tuesday night. The PM was poised confident and not missing a single beat to push her view that the six star Green Star building was a great example of what a carbon priced,  “cleaner” “more sustainable future” future might look like. Talk about property getting the ear of Canberra…Who is courting who here?

So called Labor stalwart Graham Richardson told some shock jocks in Melbourne on Thursday that the PM was doomed. See the ABC website post

But at least Richo qualified his remarks by admitting that Labor couldn’t repeat its spear-throwing/suicide leap by ditching its leader again any time soon, thanks to the pact the independents have made direct with Gillard. All this matters because of the carbon price and sustainability and because the opposition is hell bent on crushing any green shoots it sees.

In Victoria and NSW, where the Coalition has won government in recent times, the pressure from national colleagues to backtrack and slow down on sustainability is making a mockery of the general mood in business, especially property.

Victoria – all systems are slow
One of our sources in Victoria says it is clear that  premier Ted Baillieu is “cycling backwards” on sustainability. The long awaited review of Sustainability Victoria is due out soon and no-one is getting ready to celebrate. The fear is that there will be a dumbing down of its agenda. Mind you, said our source, Baillieu promised big things on green issues before the state election. Guess the slow down  is the price you pay for being part of a bigger boofier agenda.

Winding up on wind

It’s hard to even mention the wind power issue or we will get really rude and mad. See our toned down version

It includes excepts and links to the transcript of the ABC Four Corners report that canvasses both sides of the debate on health in relation to wind farms (why is that other parts of the world have no health issues at all?). Also the strong links of leaders in the anti wind farm campaign with the right wing Institute of Public Affairs.

Now this is the think tank that seems hell bent on rolling back the clock on environmental and other issues to an era when the people had to shut up and do what they were told.  An amazingly telling point in the Four Corners report is where the head of the Landscape Guardians admits it’s about politics for him, not health at all, even though health is the public façade of his campaign.

In NSW the wind farm campaign is heading the same way as Victoria.

Premier Barry O’Farrell said in mid August that he hopes the state does not give approval for any more wind-farms.

“I’m told no new applications have been lodged. We haven’t approved any applications and if I had my way we wouldn’t,” he is reported telling the Macquarie radio network.

More alarmingly he says: “None of this would be necessary if the federal government hadn’t signed up to a 20 per cent renewable energy target.”

Total Environment Centre’s Jeff Angel pointed out that before the March election the coalition had supported renewable energy targets the Premier is criticising.”

Mood in the market
It’s true, some companies have shed small number of staff, but overall in the view of one consultant  “every week that goes by is a week where the backlog of buildings that need refurbishing gets bigger.”

It’s the same problem worldwide. A recent UK the challenge has been dubbed “One building a minute” to signify how many buildings, including houses needed to be retrofitted for better energy performance to meet  the UK greenhouse reduction targets.

But will there be a recession?

Lyn Shaddock one of the longest term survivors in the property industry who advised from the go-get at 1 Bligh Street especially on the 3 D or building management modelling thinks not. It will be a slowdown for 12 months and then off it goes, he says.

Shaddock is now concentrating on a fund that invests in property pure and simple: no tricks, no traps, just boring long term investment with rental income, just like property used to be.

Employee spotlight
Tania Crosbie who recently started a new business, Sustainability at Work, with Melissa Houghton, is feeling a tad more confident in recent times about business prospects, after recent financial ructions put a few big spend projects on hold.

It means that bosses who want to act on sustainability are now preferring to commit to lower cost projects such as those offered by her company, dealing with changing staff behaviour, rather than on big ticket items such as major refurbs.

“It seems to be flavour of the month,” says Crosbie. It’s still taking action, but action that impacts less on the bottom line, she says.

Indoor air
is calling for participants in a new study of indoor environment quality and productivity in buildings worldwide.

The study will use “recognised IEQ industry testing protocols, occupant satisfaction survey and financial performance to demonstrate real and quantifiable evidence of the benefits and cost savings associated with the operational outcomes of green buildings,” a company spokesman said. Contact:

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