News from the front desk 490: Well that’s hit a nice exciting kind of nerve. Our big new event Flick the Switch – on electric buildings and cities and our net zero future, coming up on 5 August, with an ebook to follow – certainly looks like it’s another cracker. The feedback in just one day since its launch is fantastic.

This is a topic that has tapped the zeitgeist of this industry. The one that pushes always for “better cleaner greener” and is now about to tip the promise and potential over into action.

Some people might have bunkered down in Covid but the innovators have been cooking up a storm, all working on net zero and all electric buildings.

Private companies, industry bodies such as the Green Building Council of Australia, governments in many places, countless consultants and suppliers of technology, equipment and services – and now the rating tools such as NABERS and the Commercial Buildings Disclosure program – are all moving in the same direction.

See what Poppy Johnston found out on Thursday at the annual NABERS conference. The industry’s critical rating tool is moving in synch with the emissions profile of grid electricity that’s becoming increasingly renewable. And gas? You guessed it: it will be marked down.

At our event we are gathering some of the best brains in the space to share their views on what’s going on, what they’re doing, and how we can all be part of it.

On the macro side, we will have an amazing set of powerhouse people who are leading the transition of our economy into a net zero future.

There’s keynote Stephen Bygrave, who is director Climate Resilience and Net Zero Emissions for the NSW government. He comes with an impressive portfolio in the state, territory and federal government, not to mention his background as head of think tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) for three years.

There’s the highly regarded Martijn Wilder who now runs his own firm after 20 years at Baker McKenzie where he was head of the Global Environmental Markets practice specialising in climate change and international issues, and comes with a string of qualifications such as professor of Climate Change Law at the Australian National University, chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and president of WWF (Australia) and director of the Climate Council (need we go on?).

And there is the incredible Heidi Lee, chief operations officer for BZE, who has been amazing us in several conversations over recent weeks with her depth and breadth of knowledge of this industry, as she leads an ambitious charge from BZE to create a million jobs through a net zero transition. Attracting, along the way, support from the likes of Atlassian kingpin Mike Cannon-Brookes, Malcolm Turnbull and Ross Garnaut. See the full list here.

Of course, we’ll also dive into the sector of the people who are recreating our built environment to align with these goals.

Their passion and commitment speak volumes to their understanding of how important this work is and their keen awareness they’ve been given the chance of a lifetime –  a golden/green opportunity – to change the way we do things, for the better.

But how?

Leading the charge to share their knowledge of how to get to net zero and all electric buildings will be Mirvac’s Dave Palin, GPT’s Steve Ford, and Frasers Property’s Rory Martin. Others from the engineering, design, investment and technology, tenancy and professionals side will be on hand to scope out the possibilities and how to overcome the challenges.

Bruce Precious from Six Capitals has been hand picked for the task of Grand Inquisitor along with The Fifth Estate. That’s in response to popular demand: Bruce is known for asking the tough questions and knows the information that needs to be drawn out.

Net zero all-electric buildings is not easy

Is gas easy to get rid of in offices, as some people have told us, or not? How is the story different for large public buildings, especially in Melbourne where the winter chills are deep?

What about net zero housing?

Is Passive House as good as its aficionados say?

How do ratings help or hinder?

NABERS is lifting its game but what about the BASIX environmental rating system in NSW. It looks like it needs a major overhaul, especially for apartment buildings.

According to one engineer we spoke to this week, it penalises the fabric of a building in terms of points allocated, in deference to a fridge or gas cooker that might be taken out by the occupants in years to come and replaced with low performing kit.

“While the Green Building Council of Australia and the IPCC are calling for the electrification of buildings as an essential step towards zero carbon buildings, BASIX currently punishes you for not using gas.”

On four residential buildings the consultant is designing, he said, a switch from gas boilers and gas cooktops to more expensive electric heat pumps and induction cooktops would mean he’d lose seven points on the score, “which is a lot if your BASIX Energy target is 25.

“You end up paying for fridges to compensate for trying to deliver an efficient fossil fuel free building.”

It’s also a “black box”.

“It doesn’t give you the answers until you fail.”

Does this rating tool need urgent updating? Sounds like it.

What about district heating and cooling systems? It makes sense to get them into precincts but are they feasible? Some of the best operators around have been defeated by the commercial imperatives (cost) or the governance deficiencies (we need some good collaborative legal and community structures).

What about heat pumps? Ventilation systems? The IT systems that need to be integrated?

What about first principles? Caring for country, caring for people. Start there.

Now with Covid, the game has changed again. But is it for the worse or somehow for the better?

We’re becoming more sensitised because this scourge knows no bounds of class, privilege or geographical smugness.

We now want more community in this not-quite-post-Covid world, more empathy, more connection, more…humaneness.

Which seems to be the antithesis of what we need to fight the virus and possibly why so many people are so determined to maintain our values and our connectivity one way or another.

A prototype precinct

For instance, let’s imagine a prototype precinct that’s net zero emissions, all electric and contains a mini village of housing, workspaces, retail and other facilities, with existing buildings that need to be brought into the net zero fold as well.

Our tribe there might, in time, learn to ensure its own herd immunity. Or is this too much like a gated community?

Be part of our event and help us answer these questions.

And get in touch if you are interested to help support this event and our work at The Fifth Estate Ph: 0413 834 574

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  1. Please don’t ignore EMF’s (Electromagnetic Fields, Dirty Electricity and Magnetic Fields) when thinking of Electric Cities. The electrification of the earth is the No 1 threat to our environment right now (ask the worlds power expert) and human health. Its said to be more immediate than climate change with the biggest issue being that… nobody is measuring our multiple exposures.!!

    We have WIFI everywhere now as well which I can imagine would be a big part of electric cities. Brain cancer is now the no 1 disease in Australian children. Directly linked to EMF’s.
    Building Biologists are the people to consult when it comes to healthy buildings. Buildings that are truly green are good for the environment ….AND Human Health.

    Anything electrical interferes with nature.. as we are electric beings ourselves.