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Building energy efficiency in Australia – a chat with Arup in Melbourne


MelbourneI, until very recently, used to work for Arup, an international engineering consultancy. So I’m using this travel opportunity to visit the various Arup offices around the world. So far I’ve been to the Sydney and Melbourne offices, and I’ll be heading off to Brisbane soon.

In Melbourne I met with Nick Adams, who focuses on buildings projects and heads up the mechanical services team. We had a good chat about what’s been going on in the Australian building sector with regards to energy consumption, and the various initiatives that have landed on Australia’s shores which seek to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

I have been to Melbourne before, when I was much younger, in 2001, and, coming from small town Cape Town, I was blown away by the glass skyscrapers. They really were the enduring memory of the city that I had.

There is a Building Code of Australia and the “goal of the_ __BCA__ __is to enable the achievement of nationally consistent, minimum necessary standards of relevant safety (including structural safety and safety from fire), health, amenity and sustainability objectives efficiently._” This Code outlines the minimum performance specifications that new buildings have to comply with, effectively setting the lowest possible bar. As energy efficiency becomes more topical, Adams says that these minimum criteria are not difficult to meet, but that the Code has started to have an impact on Melbourne’s skyline, as the minimum criteria for energy consumption and building envelope design are now impacting whether buildings can get away with floor to ceiling glass façades.

In 2005 the Green Star rating system was introduced in Australia, providing building owners with aspirational targets. This has helped to drag the industry forward, but, as we’ve seen in South Africa too, there are certain negative aspects to it which come through as the sector starts to settle and mature. This largely relates to the tick box nature of rating a building according to sometimes onerous lists. It also results in certain interventions being selected because they tick a box, but they may not necessarily have any significant real world impact.

More recently, the US rating system LEED is being used more frequently, particularly by multi-nationals who have used LEED in other countries. The UK’s BREEAM tool is not commonly used in Australia, even by UK based organisations.

More recently, another US performance standard, the Living Building Challenge, is picking up popularity. This focuses on a building’s beauty, sense of place and efficiency. It’s harder to check or rate than the other tools.

Another one is the Well Building Standard; this looks at the health of the building, the enjoyment that the tenants get from occupying the building and their “health and wellness [should be] at the center of design.” It’s a hard standard to comply with.

Lastly there is the Commercial Building Disclosure programme. This programme “requires energy efficiency information to be provided in most cases when commercial office space of 2000 square metres or more is offered for sale or lease.” The aim is for prospective buyers or tenants to enter into a purchasing or leasing agreement fully informed. What this does is introduce the building’s electricity and energy consumption levels as a competitive element amongst building owners. Adams says that the real estate agents are latching onto energy statistics, and using this as promotional indicators for their clients.

Seems there’s a lot happening in this space.

[Thanks Nick for your time, and showing me the beautiful Melbourne skyline from your offices!]