Paul Bannister

1 February 2013 – According to Paul Bannister, managing director of energy specialists Exergy Australia and a frequent contributor to Australia’s energy rating tools, the retrofit industry is entering a new phase. And it’s exciting.

Instead of the energy audits that dominated his company’s business in the past, there is now a lot more work that encompasses the whole of the upgrade project.

“We’re now seeing the upgrade of buildings as an opportunity, it’s an increasing amount of work. The industry is starting to head down that path which is very exciting from all sorts of perspectives,” Bannister says.

It means a consultancy such as his can see a project all the way through and do “all the testing and monitoring” that they would like to.

“It’s a much lumpier piece of work.” In a good way.

“You can lock in a long term contracts, to make it a more exciting long term business prospect.”

In many cases the capital works program, even for a major upgrade, can produce a five year payback.

And it’s important, he says, because it starts to address the lower end of the building market, because the upper end of the market – the major office trusts, for instance, “have all got their portfolios looking remarkably like a 4.5 star average”.

“Even for those portfolios we’re moving from a discovery and implementation phase to capital works and a reasonably continuous improvement phase – a lot based on monitoring.”

The company is launching a monitoring product that gives “full scale visibility into the building” which the team can then service.

“We’re not just looking at graphs of electricity consumption, but analysing what’s going on. That’s the new leading edge, it’s definitely going to be in fault diagnosis.

“Instead of being told, ‘by the way Meter 3 is using more energy’, or not finding out till they get an enormous energy bill two months down the track, we are ale to say, Meter 3 is using more energy because Pump 4 didn’t turn off last night or the control on Fan 7 seems to have failed.”

“So that end of the market is transitioning.”

Growth

In the last few years the business averaged growth of 20-25 per cent, Bannister says. He expects 2013 to be strong after some market weakness in the latter half of 2012.

For some reason, he says the January to June period seems to be busier than the July to December period.

Clients include Quintessential, which is undergoing a major energy efficiency program, and long term client Colonial, that Bannister says is now “very close” to its 4.5 star NABERS target across the portfolio.

Bannister says his company made the decision to get into the more inclusive project management and independent commission agent work  in 2010 “and I’ve got to say we’ve not looked back”.

“There was some resistance to the move – after all we’re consultants, not the guys that run around with hoods and temperature gauges but we discovered that the process around commissioning [of new buildings]  is so much in need of supervision and it’s in an area that we could we could add a lot of value.”

Such as “making sure the right tests are identified and performed correctly and done in a sensible order where you’ve got tests that interact with each other”.

Exergy has also been doing some work in data centres, not the least being Bannister’s work on developing the NABERS rating tool for this specialised sector, and it’s also been looking at the retail property market, which Bannister says is like being back in the commercial property market of 10 years ago.

By comparison to the office sector the quality of thinking in design and operation is well behind. Large shopping centres also often have three or four major expansions, each with their own separate plants, each built rather flimsily, often not much more than a “tin shed”, all of which “does not made them very amenable for  a lot of energy savings”.

Big investments in centralised infrastructure does not suit their business model, says Bannister.

A lot of challenges and no doubt opportunities, then.

Another area of work is from government and some universities though Bannister says the latter is a tough ask. Universities tend to be badly under-resourced and often facing big facilities challenges.

What about staffing?

Banister says the company is at about 30 staff in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne and held steady last year, not needing to downsize.

He’s not expecting to take anyone in the next few months, but if things pick up that could change.