The National Energy Efficiency Conference 2016

Improving the energy efficiency of mid-tier office buildings could save the state of Victoria $150 million in energy costs, create 12,000 jobs and cut emissions by 540,000 tonnes, new research presented at this week’s National Energy Efficiency Conference has found.

Sustainability Victoria’s Energy Efficient Office Buildings: Transforming the Mid-Tier Sector report was launched at the Deep Retrofits and Zero Carbon Targets session chaired by Energy Efficiency Council head of projects Shauna Coffey.

Shauna Coffey

Ms Coffey told The Fifth Estate there was a general consensus among attendees regarding the huge untapped potential in the mid-tier sector, which accounts for around 80 per cent of all office buildings and around half of commercial floorspace nation-wide.

Simply tuning a building’s systems, for example, can reduce energy use by 28 to 30 per cent, she said.

The obstacle is that the energy efficiency sector is “nowhere near scale” in connecting with the owners of these smaller and more dispersed buildings.

“A whole host of interventions are required,” she said.

The SV report is part of its Energy Efficient Office Buildings Program, which took home the National Energy Efficiency Award for Best Energy Saving Program on Tuesday night.

The mid-tier component of the program comprised SV working with the owners of 20 older buildings in both Melbourne and regional Victoria to undertake efficiency upgrades.

Actions included installing sensors for lighting, tuning lifts and other equipment, installing more efficient heating and cooling, installing digital systems to improve control of building services and facilities and fitting carbon monoxide sensors on carparks so exhaust fans only operate when required.

A 12-month monitoring period was undertaken that demonstrated the buildings achieved a 4000 tonne reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over 12 months and a combined $1.1 million in savings in energy bills annually.

The properties also gained an average increase in NABERS ratings of one star, and 90 jobs were created undertaking the works.

In addition, the investment in upgrades was generating a positive return within three years for the owners, and had reduced ongoing maintenance costs.

Sustainability Victoria chief executive Stan Krpan said there was a need to transform these kinds of existing assets to help achieve the state’s target of net zero carbon by 2050.

There are also economic benefits to be had.

“Undertaking these upgrades [across the whole stock] could generate 12,000 jobs as well as reducing emissions by 540,000 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 135,000 cars off the road,” Mr Krpan said. Energy cost savings are also estimated at $150 million.

“The research shows the benefits of acting now. Modelling suggests these older buildings could potentially consume almost half of Australia’s carbon budget by 2050.”

Mr Krpan said upgrades can also attract higher-paying tenants, reduce tenant turnover and improve worker wellbeing and productivity.

Chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia Romilly Madew said tackling the mid-tier was challenging, as ownership structures are varied and fragmented, and decision-makers are unsure of the benefits of more efficient building space.

“However Sustainability Victoria’s report demonstrates that these benefits are compelling – and many of the actions are ‘quick wins’ that any building owner could undertake today.”

As well as the obvious benefit of $150 million in energy costs state-wide, Ms Madew said building owners and tenants participating in the program reported fewer sick days and complaints about office temperature, and increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

“With more than 400,000 workers occupying mid-tier buildings in Victoria alone, there is huge potential to improve people’s 9-to-5.”

The report should be top of federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg’s reading list, she said.

“As the Australian Government looks for easy opportunities to meet our Paris climate goals, these findings demonstrate the untapped potential within the building sector.”

Ms Coffey said lowering the floorspace threshold for the Commercial Building Disclosure Program had created a challenge for many mid-tier owners. With a new cohort of mid-tier buildings affected, she said the task ahead was to let owners know what it means for them and how to take action.

The different ownership types in the sector also complicate the communication process, as different types of owners respond to different things, she said. The term “mid-tier” also itself did not connect with owners.

“There are a whole bunch of organisations working on the mid-tier conundrum,” she says.

They include the EEC, GBCA, AIRAH, the Facilities Managers Association, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Sustainability Victoria, the City of Sydney and the City of Melbourne.

A Mid-Tier Working Group has been established that is working in collaboration with the federal government.

Information is not the problem, Ms Coffey said.

“There are hundreds of reports – but the people who need to know that information don’t know they need to know it.”

Ms Madew said the SV report proved that governments could perform an important role in closing the information gap within the sector, and help deliver simple improvements to buildings with long-term gains for businesses, employees and the community.

The GBCA will continue to work with Sustainability Victoria and the property industry to leverage the report’s findings, she said.