Christoph Spesshardt

Australia should look to Germany as an example of effective policy for producing high-performance residential buildings, according to a senior Knauf Group executive in town for the Energy Productivity Summit 2017.

Knauf public affairs and strategy director Christoph Spesshardt told The Fifth Estate Germany had implemented a multi-pronged approach that was so successful that soon all new residential buildings would be practically net zero.

Germany has had government imperatives around energy security and reducing reliance on nuclear power that has made energy efficiency a chief priority. With Australia recently facing issues around energy security and booming gas prices, Spesshardt said we too should be looking to demand side measures such as energy efficiency to help the situation.

He said that in Germany, like Australia, buildings were the biggest untapped potential for energy efficiency activity, with improvements to windows, doors, HVAC and insulation key.

Recent research by Pitt&Sherry for Knauf and the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity found that most Australian homes did not have the most cost-effective levels of insulation installed, needing a 50 per cent increase in roof insulation and 35 per cent increase in wall insulation to achieve optimal energy savings – up to $6000 a household over a 30-year period.

Spesshardt said it was unfortunate insulation had been stigmatised since the rollout of the Home Insulation Program, but that it was no reason to rule out cost-effective solutions.

“Building physics haven’t changed just because the program isn’t working any more,” he said.

Near zero energy standard soon mandatory for EU

The regulatory environment of “sticks, carrots and tambourines” has been key to Germany’s success in energy efficient buildings.

“The idea is that we have building standards – the stick – so you have to build up to a certain standards,” he said. “It was tightened 1 Jan 2016 and there will be a new one in 2021, which will be NZEB, or nearly zero-energy building. That will be mandatory for the whole of the EU. It is the baseline for new builds.

“Whoever is building more efficiently than the new build standard gets a carrot – a direct subsidy – up to €75,000 depending on grade of efficiency.”

This has been done through state bank KfW, which provides grants or near zero interest loans, including to existing home owners undergoing retrofits.

The tambourine is basically the information campaign – banging on the tambourine to explain and make transparent the benefits of energy efficiency. It’s not only about saving money and short payback times, it’s about increasing the value of your house and making it more comfortable, Spesshardt said.

The tambourine also includes market pushes like energy performance certificates, so heating and cooling costs of buildings are made explicit and transparent.

“So it’s about pushing the base with sticks, pulling the leaders with carrots, along with the tambourines.”

Sustainable industry needs to push back

He said, like in Australia, building lobby groups have a lot of power in Germany, but that associated industries needed to make the case for increased standards.

He is vice chair of the German Business Initiative for energy efficiency, a group of likeminded companies that came together to push solutions for the energy transition and decarbonisation.

“Regulators and members of parliament said, ‘Don’t come as single interest groups,’” he said.

So the idea was to form an industry body that started with solutions, not with lobbying.

“Not ‘we want’, but ‘we have solutions’.”

In showing the German chancellory how the energy efficiency industries could help reduce reliance on nuclear power, Spesshardt said he employed the skills of a family member who was also a magician, and gave a presentation where they made a model of a nuclear power plant literally disappear. Energy efficiency improvements in Germany, he said, could reduce the need for 10 nuclear power plants and nine coal plants.

“But of course we are just an insulation company. We can deliver solutions but you first need government to set the frame, then you need a free market and businesses to develop ideas and solutions to get there.”

In Australia, he said Knauf wasn’t pushing for a “huge program” like the Home Insulation Program again, just clear standards and some carrots to help with the huge task of upgrading the existing building stock.

With interest in renewables ramping up, Spesshardt warned that energy efficiency should not be “the forgotten little sister”.

“We need to follow the principle of energy efficiency first.”

This, he said, will get us on the road to 100 per cent renewables faster.

The Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity’s Energy Productivity Summit 2017 is on 4-5 April.

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