By Tina Perinotto

19 June 2012 – Origin is experiencing a mini boom in demand for energy retrofit projects in commercial buildings, with business doubling in the past 12 months.

The energy retailer’s new business unit Encompass, established 18 months ago, has carried out work in 2000 sites, for more than 800 customers, a company spokeswoman said.

The company was recently announced as lead contractor to retrofit 45 properties for the City of Sydney, to make them more energy and water efficient ahead of Sydney’s rollout of a new trigeneration network, which will also be managed by Origin.

See our article on the City of Sydney upgrade plans.

John Huggart, the company’s group manager for business markets, said the retrofit business was not “entirely new”.

“For a long time, we’ve been working with customers and sought to help them manage their energy needs and one way we can help them is to ensure they have energy efficiency programs in place,” Mr Huggart said.

“It’s what customers need and look for from their energy provider, and it’s been going for a long time, but it’s true that we’re expanding.”

Key drivers for the new interest were rising energy prices, a concern for environmental impacts and the combination of these with a price on carbon, which would be effective in July, he said

Mr Huggart said the key way the company works was to help clients with information to understand how much energy they were using, and then guide them through a process to improve their energy consumption profile.

“We give them access to real time data…what is going through their power meter. Unlike at home where it can take a while to get the bill, we can provide them with the information online, or through an iPad. They can monitor their usage.”

Mr Huggart said the next stage was to work out how to better use energy.

“We assess what type of opportunity there might be, depending on the type of business. It could be through the heating or airconditioning and the sources of power,” he said.

The work is either done direct or through partnerships, for instance if the need for a new lighting or new chiller has been identified.

On hand is a large team of engineers involved in assessment for what can be improved and assisting in delivery of the solution.

One of the biggest barriers to energy efficiency is the investment required.

In that respect Origin’s association with Low Carbon Australia has been most helpful. “That gives customers access to sources of funding,” Mr Huggart said. “It removes the upfront costs and can give them some comfort and guarantee of the savings.”

With the work for the City of Sydney, the council is paying for the capital infrastructure and the retrofit. A third way is where Origin invests and owns the capital.

“We own the piece of infrastructure and plant and recover our investment over time,” Mr Huggart said.

This includes the co-generation and trigeneration plants.

Jennifer Baltatzidis,  principal consultant, energy engineering for Origin agreed there was generally more interest in retrofitting.

“There are a lot more projects coming through,” Ms Baltatzidis said.

“The work can involve HVAC [heating, ventilation and airconditioning] modifications. With tenants it can be devices to control the voltage and output and optimise the systems.”

She said that with trigneration plants owned by Origin energy was supplied back to the grid, something difficult for most property owners.

One of these plants was at the  company’s headquarters at 321 Exhibition Street in Melbourne, owned by Cromwell Group,  and another was at 20 Bond Street in Sydney