Making the invisible visible: the energy efficiency story

Over the course of two days earlier this week, 11 brilliant international speakers, 51 home-grown leaders and many more energy efficiency professionals came together at the 10th National Energy Efficiency Conference in Sydney to discuss the theme: Better cities, stronger industry, cheaper energy. 

Professor Peter Hennicke, Former President of the Wuppertal Institute on Climate, Environment and Energy in Germany opened the conference and painted an extraordinary picture about the importance of energy efficiency. 

He said that an energy revolution based solely on renewables is possible, but it’s one that will be expensive, unnecessarily disruptive and politically challenging. Instead, a revolution based on renewables AND energy management is the way to lower power bills and help homes and businesses – but it will need investment.

Germany, despite already being a world leader in energy efficiency, itself needs a further $9 billion of investment in industrial energy efficiency. It’s a hefty sum, but one that will unlock $65 billion dollars in benefits. What’s more, going harder on energy efficiency will create hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. 

Australia is currently a long way behind Germany, which means that we have a vast quantity of high-value, low-hanging fruit. Just imagine what $9 billion of investment in energy efficiency could achieve!

So how do we tap into this potential?

Innovation is a huge part of the story. Sometimes innovation means looking backwards to passive cooling technologies. Other times it means radical new technologies.

Warner Priest from Siemens showed how industry could move away from increasingly expensive gas by shifting to hydrogen, while Michael Lord from Beyond Zero Emissions talked about another option: moving from gas to electricity through heat pumps and other technologies. 

And as Louise Vickery pointed out, electrification means digitisation, which means more data and more control.

Azheem Haseeb from Siemens showed how radical innovations in IoT will create better buildings that are easier to manage; Rob Bellian from Signify showed that the future of street-lighting was actually a future for connected devices; and David Walsh from CIM Enviro showed that richer data meant not just lower bills, but lower maintenance.

David Nemtzow showed how more interconnection would better link buildings and the electricity system, and Dr Michelle Ziebots explained how IoT and electrification would link our transport systems, our buildings and our phones.

You can see innovation at work here.

But technology on its own can’t change our situation unless the right incentives are in place to use those technologies.

On Day 2, our international keynote from California, Matt Golden, showed that we need a whole new way forward: that we need to move beyond simple incentives for energy efficiency, to incentives that take account of how and when they take place; that we need to get smarter to ensure that the duck-curve is a cute little critter, rather than a terrifying monster devouring our system.

Dr Iain McGill asked whether our energy markets were working in the old world, let alone in a brave new world. Violette Mouchaileh from AEMO and Brendan Morling from the Energy Security Board talked about the emergence of distributed resources and the importance of reforms to coordinate these resources to maximise their benefits.

But more than technology, data and markets, this year’s conference was about people as the enabler for an energy efficient future, and communication was a huge theme.

Communications is key but manufacturers needs and corporate needs are different

Matt Golden, David Walsh, Azheem Haseeb, Rob Bellian, Dr Takao Sawachi and Michael Wiener showed that good data is at the heart of communication.

We first need to understand who we are communicating with, and what their needs are. Tennant Reed showed that manufacturers have very different needs to corporate businesses, and that we need to cater to those differences.

Dr Cassandra Goldie, Joel Dignam, Professor Bjarne Olesen and Dr Dominique Hes talked about how we need to create buildings around people: around their comfort, around their health, and around their safety. Ken Morrison explained that the building market is changing, with an increased focus on creating places for people to interact.

The human side of story telling is key to get energy efficiency cut through

But communication is much more than this, too.

Communication is about telling stories that cut through. It’s about stories that understand that we are human. It’s about tapping into our creative side, and more importantly, working with people who really know how to tap into their creative sides to meet our subconscious.

Luke Brown noted that communication is much more about what someone hears you say, rather than what you think you’ve said. Jodi Newcombe showed that we need the help of artists to make the invisible become visible. 

We also need to make it audible. Will Tait took us on a journey and showed us that we need to hear it in our ears and also in our hearts. Changing hearts and minds starts with hearts.

So, what is the story?

The story is that the world is changing: our generators are changing, and our politics are changing. 

Romilly Madew said that the world has already changed, and Bridgette Carter from Bluescope Steel explained how her company had radically changed the way it purchased and managed energy.

At our first conference 10 years ago, there was no way that businesses would take energy and carbon so seriously. At every conference, there is incredible knowledge and talent in the room, and our sector can, and must, help to make this change fast, fair and affordable. 

As Will Tait said, there’s a delicious warmth that comes from our secret knowledge. But we have to share that knowledge and make the invisible visible.

Tony Arnel is president of the Energy Efficiency Council is Australia’s peak body for energy efficiency, energy management and demand response. 

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