sustainability Victoria Krpan
Photo: Graham Holtshausen

NEWS FROM THE FRONT DESK NO 407 – While the federal government behaves like the perennial loser at the footy finals, cheering on the death throes of the fossil fuel industry with all its dying might – despite the electoral damage – other governments are not so silly.

Sustainability Victoria is bracing for a busy 2019 with a raft of programs to manage on behalf of the state government.

With a looming state election on 24 November, the Andrews government has made it abundantly clear it knows what side its electoral bread is buttered on: sustainability.

SV chief executive Stan Krpan says there’s a tonne of work in his agency to keep everyone busy for the rest of this year and very busy next year. And yes programs are already funded.

Queensland is another state that’s clearly picked renewables as a vote winner, committing to 50 per cent renewables by 2030 and a government-owned company called CleanCo to oversee Queensland’s renewable energy.

NSW hasn’t done the same but should if it wants to remain the race to win back government early next year, according to the prevailing winds of consumer sentiment (evidenced by countless surveys) and the experts.

So far, the critics say, it’s been all talk and no action in NSW but as the Berejiklian government feels the heat of a potential loss at the polls and desperately needs a good news story to balance the sad/bad news coming out of its light rail project and the disastrous WestConnex, all that could change.

Smart Energy Council’s John Grimes is on the record salivating at a potential change of government in NSW. It would result in an “absolute transformation of the energy sector,” he’s said.

“Until now, NSW has been the laggard when it comes to transitioning to renewable energy. Other states are moving. The community is moving. And the closer you get to the reality of people’s lives, local governments, community groups, they are all absolutely behind the transition and will drive the transition,” he told PV Magazine.

In Victoria, sustainability fans can’t believe their luck

In recent times the job lots have snowballed. According to Green Energy Markets’ Victoria’s large scale renewables boom is creating 6000 jobs (PV mag again).

For SV’s Stan Krpan, the heat is also on, but nicely so.

“The minister [for energy environment and climate change Lily D’Ambrosio] has had so many announcements”, he told The Fifth Estate on Wednesday during a quick telephone conversation.

At this week’s All-Energy Australia conference the minister announced fast charge electric car docks and benefits for battery storage.

“Sustainability Victoria is handling the program and we’re delighted to set that up for the government,” Krpan said.

For the built environment there was also exciting news on Tuesday with an announcement that the recipients of the $2.18 million flagged earlier this year to create four demonstration homes under the Zero Net Carbon Homes program are three big players in the resi industry, Stockland, Metricon Homes and SJD Homes.

He said his agency was “delighted” at how big the winning players are and their selection makes sense. It signals that the government is serious about getting strong outcomes, Krpan said.

The money isn’t to help build the houses but to create the enabling framework that can allow the models to scale up – an important notion given that forecasts have Victoria heading to two million new homes by 2050.

Part of the funding will be to create verification tools that can certify that zero net carbon homes have actually been achieved.

Another will be to conduct the frequently expensive in-depth consumer surveys to give comfort to the companies making the big investments that this is a worthwhile venture. Yet another will be to develop ways to market the houses and develop training for this.

“We’re trying something different here; we’re establishing a partnership with the builders to see if we can get to net zero. And working with them around consumer insights, looking at how you market to them and what the right branding of net zero carbon is.

“We’ll also do the technical testing – the air blower testing and performance of the home.”

An important piece of work will include the further development of the FirstRate5 tool that uses the NatHERS rating scheme.

“We found that people are using that [FirstRate5] to go beyond compliance, so we improved the tool so it can go beyond net zero net carbon and performance can be verified.”

Krpan says there has been “huge interest” from the peak bodies in the built environment.

If the grant monies isn’t contributing to the cost of building the four homes, isn’t the size of the grant a tad on the high side? Krpan says the cost of this enabling work is huge, especially for consumer sentiment surveys.

Krpan agrees we already know consumers would like more sustainable homes. He says existing research by one of the partners has revealed “some really interesting insights” into how to market zero net houses, “but it’s not the language we’d use.”

Terms such as “the coolest house”, the “house with no bills” and “house of the future” are of interest, he says. Emotion is key.

“You have to tap into the emotion. You don’t do a cost benefit before buying a new iPhone.”

There will also be a training budget for the people who will market the houses.

The four pilot homes will be in the south-east of the city (three) and in the western corridor.

A statement from Ms D’Ambrosio said each of the houses will incorporate energy saving features such as extra ceiling and wall insulation, double glazing, high efficiency heating and cooling, water heating, and lighting systems, as well as rooftop solar panels.

SV modelling already shows these “purpose-built homes could almost halve energy costs and cut greenhouse gas emissions by around six tonnes a year compared to a standard new home,” the statement said.

If Victoria builds two million homes by 2050 as expected, you can see the big attraction to saving energy.

What else is Sustainability Victoria doing?

For SV it’s a busy time all round. It’s got other programs to manage.

On the table and funded are solar rebates for 24,000 homes and 6000 solar hot water systems, with those numbers likely to push out to 720,000 homes if the government is returned.

“We set up a dedicated unit called Solar Victoria which is now processing the first rebates from the solar and hot water schemes, Krpan says. The rebates are for 50 per cent up to $2225 for solar photovoltaics and up to $1000 for hot water.

Other programs include a home retrofit program that is already underway.

The election commitment is to roll this out over 10 years to another 650,000 homes, taking the total to 1 million, he says.

Another angle is tackling the ruinous mountains of plastic and other waste piling up since China put out a hand to stop being the West’s garbage dump.

SV has a $34 million strategic recycling program to manage, launched by the minister in July, that involves waste infrastructure and procurement policies to hopefully stimulate appetites for recycled materials, particularly relating to infrastructure.

Part of the work is a $2.5 million program with the University of Melbourne to research ideas such as crushed glass in roads, hard plastics in tilt up slab construction and benchtops, and soft plastics in railway sleepers.

A problem with waste recovery, Krpan says, is the fickleness of the markets. We’ve been sending 50 per cent of our plastics off shore and 30 per cent of our paper. And with that market now demanding cleaner product, there’s now a real challenge to manage, he says.

“It’s a potentially very valuable and lucrative market but some of this lower grade stuff is not moving.”

So how is Krpan tackling all this work?

Budgets have been increased, to $130 million, up from $45 million last year. This must be a relief for the agency which under the previous regime was pared back to within an inch of its life and ordered to stick to waste issues instead of renewables and so on.

Along with the extra work is the need for more staff, ranging from senior managers to a diverse range of roles in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and professionals in the built environment such as architects and project and contract managers.

A new director resource recovery Matt Genever joined in July from a background with strategic consultancy Reincarnate.

Staff numbers will rise from 150 but the increase will be modest Krpan says, and will stay under 200.

Either way 2019 will be busy, he says.

“We’ve got a huge year ahead of us.”

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  1. RPM PIPES [made from recycled plastics]should be supported and encouraged to transform plastic waste into a “NATIONAL WATER GRID”, that would take “SOLAR DESALINATED WATER” from coastal sites via SOLAR PUMPING RELAYS to anywhere it is needed and thus contribute to “DROUGHT-PROOFING AUSTRALIA” that would be “A REAL NATION-BUILDING PROJECT”!