20 June 2013 – Remember when sustainable property was all about the glitz and glamour of new buildings and the latest technology bling? That was then. This is now: shrinking budgets, a focus on energy efficiency retrofits and a demand for proof that buildings are actually operating properly once the refurbishment dust settles.

For that you need the right measurement tools and good, reliable data.

Right on cue the new Green Star – Performance ratings tool enters the market. It seems to have arrived just in time for an energy efficiency retrofit boom.

As The Fifth Estate reported last week, one major building services company has so much work on its books it is loath to advertise its wares even though it is about to embark on a major drive in the industrial sector. Others are quietly ramping up their workforce to cope with future demand.

And the demand is coming from all directions with large energy consumers such as hotels, casinos and healthcare sectors launching programs to make their buildings more energy efficient.

The penny seems to have dropped.

This was highlighted by a recent report by NSW Auditor General Peter Achterstraat, which found that NSW Health’s energy costs had risen by almost 50 per cent over the past four years and the department had not taken advantage of NSW Treasury loans for energy efficiency initiatives. He called for an overhaul of the current approach and a focus on energy efficiency.

The Victorian Government’s Greener Government Buildings program has provided a boost to the retrofit industry in that state.

Under the program government departments must commit to implementing energy efficiency programs at sites accounting for at least 90 per cent of their energy consumption by 2018. Treasury loans for energy efficiency initiatives are available for projects that pay for themselves within a seven year period using energy and water cost savings delivered by the project.

As of March 2013, the Greener Government Buildings program had facilitated 32 large-scale building upgrade projects, including sites such as Federation Square, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Museums Victoria, including Melbourne Museum, Royal Exhibition Building and Scienceworks, and RMIT’s entire property portfolio.

Rob Murray-Leach, chief executive officer of the Energy Efficiency Council says the Greener Government Buildings program has made a lot of difference in the amount of retrofit activity in Victoria, particularly in the healthcare sector. Other factors boosting activity include increasing sophistication of retrofitting service providers and available data as well as more interest from financial providers.

“Compared to new builds, retrofits are doing relatively well. We are definitely seeing substantial interest from financial providers and building owners in refurbishment because they are now understanding the financing options a lot better.

“There is increasing literacy amongst financiers regarding energy efficiency,” says Murray-Leach.

While Environmental Upgrade Agreements or EUAs are part of the new suite of options, the market is still getting its head around these and there is room for more education on how they work, says Murray-Leach.

Green Star jumps on performance train

With this renewed focus on energy efficiency comes an even greater need for building performance measurement tools.

Until now NABERS has been the sole provider of a national rating tools for measuring the energy and water consumption of commercial buildings, with ratings for offices, shopping centres, hotels and data centres. Now the Green Building Council of Australia has entered the fray, adding a building operational performance tool to its suite of Green Star ratings tools.

So where does the Green Star Performance tool fit in?

The GBCA sees enormous potential for its new Green Star – Performance, particularly in the massive pool of under performing existing buildings, currently accounting for the vast majority of Australia’s building stock.

In its promotional material for the new tool the GBCA points out that when the US Green Building Council launched its rating tool for Existing Buildings’ Operations and Maintenance, LEED-EBOM, it drove more certifications in one year than all the other LEED tools have done in their history.

“We expect Green Star – Performance to have the same impact in Australia,” the GBCA says.

Robert Milagre at the Ideaction 2013 FM conference in Hobart

Robert Milagre, the GBCA’s Manager Green Star Development, told The Fifth Estate the new Green Star performance ratings tool would allow sectors not currently included in NABERS ratings to measure their operational performance, including schools, universities and industrial facilities, with more categories included later.

It will provide rating of building operations across nine impact categories – management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, emissions and innovation.

Milagre believes the new tool will also attract a wider audience than existing Green Star rating tools, including more owners of second tier, lower grade existing properties.

“The reasons why people use the Green Star tools vary across sectors and property types. There are indications from our industry workshops that the lower end of the market will at least test the performance tool. Out of our 32 beta testing workshops less than half of the participants had Green Star certification in the past, half were from offices and half from other sectors,” Milagre said.

The new ratings tool will have a more streamlined online certification process and will cost a lot less – around one third the certification cost of existing Green Star tools (between $6750 to $8250 for members compared to $22,000 for design and construct tools).

Streamlined Green Star is welcome news

This will be welcome news for many in the industry as high Green Star costs and onerous certification process have increasingly been cited as a disincentives for building owners to apply for certification.

Romilly Madew at the Green Cities conference 2013, flanked by Alex Cutler, CEO NZ GBC

It was an issue chief executive Romilly Madew vowed to address in her presentation on the GBCA’s future plans at this year’s Green Cities conference.

On Thursday Madew announced that a new more accessible and more affordable Green Star would soon hit the market.

“While we can be proud of Green Star’s achievements, we know we can’t afford to be complacent,” she said in an article posted on the council’s website.

“That’s why, based on industry feedback, we have developed a comprehensive and ambitious program of works as part of the continuous evolution of Green Star, called Green Star 2014. This aims to make Green Star more accessible and user-friendly, and better value for money.”

As part of this Green Star would be taken online, there would be a  new certification processes, fewer Green Star credits and “streamlining of Green Star into four rating tools – Design & As Built, Interiors, Performance and Communities – to make certification simple and straightforward.”

Robert Milagre said the performance tool encompasses a broad range of performance categories but the weighting of points is on energy, indoor environment quality and ongoing building management, accounting for 27 per cent, 18 per cent and 16 per cent of available credits, respectively.

Certification is valid for three years but greenhouse gas emissions and potable water use data must be updated annually. The number of credits in the tool is around one third that of other Green Star tools and this, combined with online submissions, will substantially cut the amount of documentation required.

“The other major difference is the cost of providing the documentation,” says Milagre. “There won’t be any need to employ a consultant to put together documentation as this tool will use existing information. It would normally be a current employee who would submit the information online and it is a straight forward process.”

The GBCA is asking for expressions of interest from anyone interested in certification under Green Star – Performance by July 31. The pilot tool will be released in October.

Need for universal performance measurement

While measurement of building operations performance is on the increase, there is still one major gap – a global measurement, says Matthew Jessup, director of Flux Consultants.

Jessup recently expressed his frustration on the issue after US green building consultant and author Jerry Yudelson, published The World’s Greenest Buildings, which compares the operational performance of green buildings in Australia, the US and Western Europe.

While he applauded Yudelson for collecting and analysing the available data, Jessup says it can be misleading to compare data that is incomplete or that is compiled using different methods.

In the US the focus is on energy cost, while in Australia it is carbon emissions. Fuel and energy sources, such as gas, electricity, hydro-electricity and nuclear power, also can’t be directly compared as this does not take into account the variations in impact of generating power through these different methods.

Carbon emissions for hydro and nuclear power generation, for example, is minimal compared to electricity and gas.

“One kilowatt hour of gas is not equivalent to one kilowatt hour of electricity,” says Jessup.

“You can’t walk into the bank with US$100 and ask them to credit AU$100 to your account balance… exchange rates apply.  Similarly you can’t just add up kilowatt hours or megajoules, you need to convert them into a common metric like cost or CO2 equivalent.”

More importantly though Jessup would like to see NABERS break building energy use into various parts so that there is more transparency about where the usage occurs.

“Under NABERS it isn’t clear how many carparks or tenants are in a building. This can be misleading.

“It means that a building like 1 Bligh St has NABERS five stars while an old less efficient building can also be five stars because it is not heavily tenanted and there’s not a lot of energy load on the building. There’s not much point in a rating if buildings aren’t treated fairly,” Jessup says.

“NABERS has been a market leader for 10 years but the market has now moved on and we need to segment the building using smart meters so that tenants can see exactly where the energy is being used.”

Green Star has been moving in this direction with the inclusion of a credit for smart meters.

The other critical issue in rating systems has been point chasing, says Jessup. This has resulted in technology being used for the sake of points rather than for operational gains.

A lot of buildings are layering systems to get extra points and the

controls guys have no chance of getting things right on day one,

let alone over the longer term. It is far too complex.

“A lot of buildings are layering systems such as VAV [variable air volume] and heat exchange to get extra points and the controls guys have no chance of getting things right on day one, let alone over the longer term. It is far too complex.

“I’m a big believer in simplicity and good passive design. In Singapore the government has introduced a scheme that encourages people to go beyond Platinum [the top rating under the Green Mark green building rating scheme] to try to break this cycle. It encourages people to look at the big picture of what they’re trying to achieve rather than getting caught up in points.”

The Barangaroo development is doing something along these lines with its climate positive framework, aiming for zero waste, carbon neutral and water positive development, Jessup says.

“We need a simple way of looking at the big issues. You can either ride the technology wave or snap the elastic band and get people to think differently and encourage innovation.”

PC Thomas, Team Catalyst

Combining different technologies doesn’t work

PC Thomas, director of Team Catalyst, says that overly complex technology, often with incompatible systems installed together, is hampering operational efficiency in buildings.

“There is a trend to use what we call hybrid design – that is combining traditional systems like VAV, under floor cooling and chilled beam. In terms of physics it doesn’t make sense. The controls become terribly complex and it doesn’t add value.

“It shows that people don’t understand the fundamentals of how these systems work,” Thomas says.

Property owners often don’t allow enough

budget to ensure buildings are commissioned and run properly,

even for the first year.

With increasing refurbishment activity amongst second tier properties comes problems of lack of knowledge about what is involved, says Thomas. This often means property owners don’t allow enough budget to ensure buildings are commissioned and run properly, even for the first year.

“The big portfolio owners understand the need to allow a budget for the building tuning phase but second tier don’t. People are struggling with how expensive and difficult it is to get a building running effectively and they don’t think they need to do it.”

The key is to keep things simple, says Thomas, and get things right at design stage.

“In Australia we don’t spend money on getting the initial concept correct. This is where we should pay experts to get the concept done properly. Documentation is often woeful.”

Thomas is not sure where the new Green Star Performance tool will sit in the market, given that NABERS has operational performance pretty well covered but can see potential in the public building space where performance benchmarks are lacking.

Meanwhile his company is busy on some major refurbishment projects, mostly of A grade buildings but with some B grade on the horizon as well. The most recent project in Strawberry Hills in Sydney involves a complete refurbishment including a façade replacement.

“There is a lot of activity and it’s a mixed bag of building types,” says Thomas. “Our main challenge is getting people to understand they have to allow enough budget to keep the building operating efficiently after the refurbishment.”

20 June 2013 –