Pathways towards net zero emissions

Article3 min28 November 2017By Louis White

The property sector contributes nearly 25 per cent of carbon emissions in Australia, but there is potential to reduce office building emissions towards net zero.

The challenge is on for Australia to reduce carbon emissions from its commercial buildings. The good news is that the technology required for the task is already at hand. 

Chris Wade, Property Lead with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), says his organisation is looking at what it can do beyond existing building codes to improve the energy efficiency and utilisation of renewable energy technologies in buildings.

The CEFC, which is owned by the Australian government, provides commercial finance to projects and technologies which are focused on renewable energy, low emissions and energy efficiency technologies.

“The property sector contributes nearly 25 per cent of carbon emissions in Australia,” says Wade. “The CEFC believes that the sector can play a key role in helping Australia achieve net zero emissions by the second half of the century. The technology is already available to help the sector to achieve that goal.”

A 2016 report, Low Carbon, High Performance, by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council estimated that taking advantage of the opportunities to reduce use of fossil fuel based energy could save households and businesses almost $20 billion by 2032.

The authors also calculated that ambitious energy efficiency, along with renewable energy technology and switching fuels, have the potential to result in net zero emission buildings by 2050.

But within some sectors of the property industry there is still low awareness of, and a lack of information about, best practice energy initiatives. 

Building-integrated solar photovoltaic panels generate electricity on-site.

Explaining the new terrain

To fill the gap, the CEFC commissioned a report called Energy in Buildings: 50 Best Practice Initiatives, which it released in mid-2017 to provide a resource for property owners and managers wanting to reduce the carbon emissions of their buildings. 

“The document is user-friendly and creates awareness of the payback that owners, fund managers and tenants can receive when undertaking energy saving and renewable energy initiatives,” Wade says.

“Sixteen of the initiatives could pay back within five years, while a total of 36 initiatives could generate returns within 10 years. Most are very affordable.”

The initiatives include architectural built forms which reduce heat, cooling, lighting and ventilation use; external shading, green roofs and green walls that all reduce cooling energy use; making use of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels; and building-integrated PV panels to generate electricity on-site.

“The great thing is that technology is constantly changing and getting cheaper,” Wade says. 

The CEFC has committed more than $800 million to property-related transactions since it began investing, with finance for a range of exemplar projects which push the boundaries of energy efficiency. This includes landmark commercial buildings in Sydney and Melbourne; innovative student accommodation in Adelaide; energy efficient community housing in Sydney and the first multi-storey Victorian commercial office building outside of the Melbourne CBD to achieve a 5.5 star NABERS energy rating, located in Geelong.

Peter Holt,  General Manager, Strategy and Policy at Energetics, a company that specialises in advice to Australian businesses on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage energy more efficiently and productively, says there are many components in the fight for a sustainable energy future.

Ambitious energy efficiency, renewable energy technology and switching fuels, have the potential to result in net zero emission buildings by 2050.

Paris agreement: what comes next

“The Paris climate agreement was an historic achievement,” Holt says. 

“We saw unprecedented cooperation across participating nations to deliver a commitment to a two degree Celsius limit on global warming and, later, rapid ratification to bring the agreement into force.  

“But what also made COP 21 (Conference of the Parties) remarkable was the role of business. Some of the world’s most iconic and largest emitting businesses declared their commitments to a two-degree world throughout the two weeks of negotiations.” This was reinforced by the recent COP in Bonn. The 2018 Talanoa Dialogue will require strengthening targets by 2020 and a quicker transition to meet the Paris target.

More than 2,500 cities have made climate commitments under the UN’s Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA), with plans that support low carbon design, construction and operations throughout the built environment.  This has enabled planners and government officials to re plan cities with some key trends emerging across the building sector.

“Companies at the forefront of the transition to a low carbon world are assessing their asset portfolios, investment decisions and the potential demand for their products through a climate change lens,” Holt says. 

Holt says the agreement spurred investment in and deployment of renewables and storage solutions, as well as big data-enabled, innovative low-carbon technologies. 

Recently, Energetics worked with Dexus to understand its long-term emissions trajectory and to set a long-term carbon abatement target using a science-based targets framework. Dexus currently has a target to reduce scope 1 and 2 emissions by 10 per cent by 2020, compared to its FY2015 base, and is using big data to help achieve its targets.

“The Internet of Things is supporting big data flows for advanced analysis of critical aspects of building performance,” Holt says. “Integrated into management systems and maintenance programs are both rapid response – enabled by real time energy usage monitoring – and predictive features.”

The predictive features use, for example, weather forecasts to ensure a building’s settings are optimised for both tenant comfort and energy efficiency, he explains.

“With an increasing number of businesses seeking both carbon neutrality and to reduce their exposure to high and volatile grid electricity and natural gas prices, interest in renewable energy supply has grown rapidly.  However, cities have limited roof space.  Once rooftop solar PV is maximised, the only cost-effective option is to source renewable energy through a power purchasing agreement.  

“Under this arrangement, a large energy user contracts supply with a renewable energy generator and/or retailer in order to meet all or part of their energy supply needs.  Apart from providing a hedge against energy market volatility, renewable energy projects in Australia can create large-scale generation certificates, which currently command high prices in the market. That helps make this option commercially attractive.”

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