NEEN’s Michael Hwang

7 May 2014 — The National Energy Efficiency Network, launched on 29 April in Canberra, has the potential to  achieve both energy savings and aggregate bargaining power over electricity prices for the huge not-for-profit sector.

The sector, which includes facilities ranging from the Farmers Federation, to state-of-the-art RSPCA animal rescue centres, sports grounds, schools, aged care residences and commercial offices, employs about 890,000 people and generated $41 billion gross value added GDP equivalent in 2006-07, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Yet, according to NEEN regional leader for Victoria and Tasmania Michael Hwang, many organisations lack capital funds to harness energy efficiency upgrades and face uncertainty in terms of ongoing funding, and money saved on power bills would translate into more funds available for core activities.

Funded by under the Federal Energy Efficiency Information Grants program, NEEN aims to provide free tools and a platform for inter-organisational collaboration on sustainability.

Mr Hwang told The Fifth Estate the program aims to fill the gaps in terms of available energy efficiency programs, which are either tightly targeted to specific groups such as low-income households, or fee-for-service programs such as VECCI’s “Grow Me The Money” program, or CitySwitch, which is focused on the needs of commercial businesses.

“A lot of the NFP sector is quite siloed, and thinking about what they need to deliver 98 per cent of the time,” Mr Hwang said.

“Some are just keeping their heads above water, and some can’t get up and go [in terms of sustainability]. Energy efficiency is something that is required for all levels of organisation, big or small – it is what we have used as a common thread in terms of sustainability. Carbon and climate change are part of a much bigger picture. NEEN is a way to start that conversation and share the journey.”

Tools and peer-to-peer support

In the NEEN program, members will have access to a free calculator specifically designed for the needs of the sector, which shows energy savings through a range of actions ranging from free actions based on behaviour change, through to low cost actions, and also larger actions with a payback of several years.

The calculator will also show the business case for actions where funds are required, and assist users to identify funding options or develop the case for grant-seeking or fundraising.

Mr Hwang said the network also incorporates a peer-to-peer collaboration platform and support for seeking grants and planning upgrades. There is also assistance for negotiating with building owners and managers where organisations in rented premises seek a greener leasing situation.

“Like all things, we never stop learning and we all want to be able to put in our two cents worth and also get two cents worth from others,” he said.

Using collective power

“Potentially we are also looking at aggregating all the energy being consumed across the sector and undertaking a program to get [electricity] retailers to offer a more advantageous rate,” Mr Hwang said.

“If all the churches and faith communities aggregate with social sporting organisations, child care centres and others, that is a substantial customer base. NEEN can create a bigger picture scenario [of group buying] to force retailers to come to the table.”

Pilots show unexpected benefits

A series of 14 pilot projects conducted around Australia ahead of the launch, including at Footscray Arts and Community Centre, a spiritual retreat centre, and a number of social support organisations, revealed unexpected benefits, Mr Hwang said.

“The pilots showed how the organisations involved have been able to increase their support and patronage [in their community], because energy efficiency provides a meeting ground and a common ground,” he said. “The energy efficiency [projects] has a spin-off effect for organisations to set up other specific sustainability programs and initiatives.

“NEEN is creating the means of transformation.”

Community launch events for NEEN are being held in every state, commencing with a launch on Friday 9 May at the Catholic Leadership centre in East Melbourne.

See our events listings for further details or RSVP for Melbourne here.