(L-R): Phil Harrington, Michele Leembruggen, Shauna Coffey and Stefan Preuss.

Concentrating retrofitting efforts on lighting is like “picking the eyes out of the beast” and could have negative consequences for our cities, the National Energy Efficiency Conference heard this week.

Speaking on a panel on motivating mid-tier offices, pitt&sherry principal consultant – carbon & energy Phil Harrington said lighting had dominated the whole retrofit landscape.

“If you come along and you do your lighting upgrade and walk away and you leave a really bad building with nice lights, the next time an energy consultant comes into that building they are going to really struggle to do a deep retrofit because the eyes are gone,” Mr Harrington said.

“When you look at the HVAC upgrades and the BMS upgrades, the paybacks are longer, they really are, so I believe if we were really going for quality in this space we would be looking for deep retrofits and we would be looking to bundle lighting upgrades with the hard stuff like the HVAC and chiller replacement so the overall payback on that investment is good enough.

“If you break it up into little bits, some of the harder stuff will never get done.”

According to the 1200 Buildings Melbourne Retrofit Survey 2015, which was launched earlier in the day, 92 per cent of buildings have undergone a lighting upgrade (an all-time high) while 49 per cent invested in a chiller upgrade or replacement of an air conditioner unit, 17 per cent managed a boiler upgrade, and just five per cent installed solar panels.

Mid tier lagging

The motivating mid-tier offices panel heard that private or mid-tier owners controlled 80 per cent of the building stock in Melbourne, but were lagging in improving the energy efficiency of their buildings.

Sustainability Victoria’s director, resource efficiency, Stefan Preuss, who chaired the panel, said the motivations of these owners were very different to both the corporate world and SMEs.

“It’s incredibly hard to find these owners and get their attention,” he said. “Once we have them committed they tend to go further.”

At the session, the Green Building Council of Australia launched its Mid-tier commercial office buildings in Australia: A national pathway to improving energy productivity report, which identifies the barriers and opportunities that exist to encourage more efficient development.

GBCA director of advocacy Katy Dean said ownership of these buildings was very diverse, and the tenants were also very diverse and not always armed with the best knowledge to make good choices about energy efficient tenancies.

“We know there is over 50 million square metres of opportunity out there – around 80,000 buildings – so it is a big challenge. But we have seen how well Australia can mobilise the top end of the market, and we know that if we are going to achieve our goals for energy productivity and carbon emissions reduction then we need to tackle this mid-tier sector,” Ms Dean said.

According to City of Melbourne’s senior sustainability officer – green buildings, Michelle Leembruggen, there was an acceleration of retrofit activity in the private sector in the past two years, with 10 per cent now undertaking a retrofit activity from four per cent in 2013. However, these owners of non-premium offices, shopping centres and factories were generally not motivated by social responsibility.

“This mid-tier segment doesn’t like to spend money, they want cash flowing into their business not out, so the mid-tier is probably disproportionately made up of laggards and late majority [adopters],” Ms Leembruggen said. “They tend to be less educated about the opportunities for improving their asset’s performance, therefore its value, and they don’t have the expertise or the time to initiate or manage retrofit projects.”

Even if grants are available, mid-tier owners may not know about them or, if they do, they may have trouble trying to get hold of the grants.

“But for those who have retrofitted and used a grant, the grant was seen as critical to the improvement,” she said.

According to Ms Leembruggen, owners corporations are “obviously crying out for information and funding”, with 1200 Buildings figures showing 30 per cent wanted more accessible information as well as grants, funding, incentives and subsidies.

“They are a tough one to crack as it’s difficult to get all the decision makers in one room,” she said.

Increase minimum standards

Mr Harrington said there was definitely a lack of policy focus on the mid-tier buildings.

“I think the most important thing is that we lift and then enforce the energy performance requirements in the National Construction Code.

“I love [the Commercial Building Disclosure program]. It’s a beautiful program. It should be expanded to smaller offices at least down to 500 square metres, and at least to retail. There would be arguments for other building classes as well.”

He also advocated the top runner concept, which has come out of the compliance industry.

“Let’s go to the best in class and aspire to make the whole market move towards that benchmark over time,” he said. “I think there is a role for possibly putting some performance requirements on some existing buildings in the code, and there’s certainly room for non-regulatory approaches.”

The Energy Efficiency Council is spearheading the development of the Building Retrofit Toolkit, a comprehensive and targeted package of interventions for mid-tier building owners.

Manager, policy & advocacy Shauna Coffey said the main message was that there is no “one size fits all” approach that will move the mid-tier building owners.

“But what we have heard is tools and information are needed by some sectors of the market. Some are looking, while there is a whole other bunch that don’t know they need them yet,” she said.

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  1. I have been doing a lot of research over the past few months on these retrofit programs. From the Nabers ratings for commercial building stock in Victoria alone I have calculated that this office space accounts for 320 Million KG CO2 Per Annum, This however does not include the CO/2 Produced by the tenants, my office 1700SQ M in Melbourne CBD produces around 480,000 KG CO/2 Per Annum. We have a solution that we estimate will halve our Carbon footprint in our office, and literally will pay for itself almost immediately with the money saved on energy bills. To validate my calculations we have installed this in one of the universities in Melbourne and they will be producing factual results and white paper. Watch this space. If you would like to know more feel free to email me Rick.Eccles@alcatel-lucent.com.

  2. Yes Iain, there are cases where mechanical solutions etc can have short paybacks but I think the gist of what Phil is saying is correct. It is, in the long run, more beneficial for building owners to bundle solutions to maximise savings and generate greater returns on the energy efficiency investment. As an industry we do need to be encouraging deeper retrofits.

  3. I’d have to disagree with the comment “When you look at the HVAC upgrades and the BMS upgrades, the paybacks are longer, they really are”.. From the energy audits we’ve doing at Pangolin Associates across the commercial sector some of the HVAC updates are as good as lighting and some cases even better. There is some low hanging fruit in HVAC as well as some new technologies coming on stream with great ROI. One component alone at a small council site had a 8 month payback, $4500 pa in savings on HVAC.