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Taking care of the next generation

Building Green to Beat Peak Demand

Archived News, Posted on 22 Jun 2011

Building green to beat peak demand

Much of the electricity network’s capacity exists to cater for peaks in power usage, typically for a few hours each year on summer weekday afternoons. If we are going to transition to a more sustainable energy supply system we will need to think smarter about how we address 'peak demand.'

Do we build more grid infrastructure which lets electricity usage increase, or do we try to curb or ‘shave’ demand at the peaks; and prevent demand increases?

Recent research from the commercial buildings sector shows cause for encouragement: it is becoming clear that as existing office buildings’ improve their energy ratings, they also curb peak demand.

This has important implications for climate change response and the economy. The current economic outlook for the electricity network is fairly clear – over $46 billion in spending for electricity network infrastructure is planned across Australia for the next five years, and roughly $7.6 billion of this is for new capital expenditure on networks to manage growing peak demand in NSW.

The research, appearing today on Green Buildings Alive, analysed the numbers on 2008 electricity data from 25 Sydney CBD buildings, and found that as buildings improve their NABERS Energy rating (NABERS is the National Built Environment Rating System), there is an associated reduction in peak demand.

An uplift from the Sydney average of 2.5 (NABERS) stars to 5 stars will, on average, more than halve a building’s overall energy consumption, and bring its peak demand down by a quarter.

The peak reduction from increasing the average NABERS rating for Sydney CBD’s commercial buildings from 2.5 to 3 stars would be equivalent to “turning off” approximately 13 large office buildings.

Recognising the potential network capacity benefit of improving office building energy efficiency, a more holistic approach to energy supply and energy management, offers significant advantages. There is growing evidence that ‘greener’ buildings benefit tenants by lowering energy bills, improving worker comfort and enhancing corporate reputations. This new research suggests that they can be good for the grid, too.

If energy companies have to spend less on networks, consumers should reap savings because about 13 per cent of the typical Sydney office building’s electricity bill is for peak “capacity charges” and 32 per cent is for network energy charges.

At the Investa Sustainability Institute, we are concerned with buildings and the environmental impact of their operation. These results illustrate the significant interrelationships between office buildings and the infrastructure servicing them.

However, one year of data for 25 buildings cannot comprehensively model the office space for a city of Sydney’s scale. For this reason the Institute has been entering into the field of public data-sharing to help discover exactly where buildings need more attention, providing better information for occupants, and informing the adjustments necessary to improve ratings. That data is now online for anyone to access.

Companies should not be afraid of opening the doors to some of their environmental data, particularly in property and real estate, where huge financial savings can be made by understanding and responding to environmental trends in buildings.

As this study into peak demand indicates, pursuing energy efficiency in buildings can lead to lower operational expenditure, reduced network expansion and ultimately reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Craig Roussac is director of the Investa Sustainability Institute, which launched Green Buildings Alive in 2010 to foster greater transparency for building sustainability

Published 6:41 AM, 22 Jun 2011
Updated 6:43 AM, 22 Jun 2011

Craig Roussac

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