Training & Events

Training & Events

2024 EEC National Conference – DAY 1: the big questions

As we type, Day One of the EEC National Conference is winding its way – over a bubble of animated conversation and canapes – towards the Gala Dinner and our awards.

Through a combination of inspiring speakers and some inspired interventions from audience members, today the Conference went as wide and deep as a day devoted to energy demand can reasonably be expected to go.

If there was a theme – perhaps for the year, not just the conference – it was communication, and inclusion.

EEC CEO Luke Menzel with the Hon Penny Sharpe, NSW Minister for Energy, Climate Change and Heritage

In her opening conversation with EEC CEO Luke Menzel, NSW Minister for Energy and Environment Penny Sharpe acknowledged "We've got a program for everything, but we don't communicate how to tap into it all."

"How do we help those who are pushing for change to tell stories in their communities?"

Or, as ACT insulation and retrofitting professional Jeremy Watson put it:

"Australians understand insulation when it comes to keeping beer cold in an esky, but it seems impossible to convince them to properly insulate their homes. How do we bridge the education gap?"

While many of today's speakers openly grappled with these fundamental challenges, they also proved they had answers in spades.

Of course, none more so than international guest Amory Lovins, who bombarded the audience with ammunition to go forth and lay down the gospel of savings from energy efficiency, integrative design and the moving-at-lightspeed improvements in smart tech on both the renewable supply and demand sides of the energy transition.

After explaining that Amory had said his favourite introduction was from a colleague who once stood up, said: 'Amory Lovins needs no introduction,' then sat back down, Luke had to acknowledge the excitement which greeted the news that Amory would be coming to Australia this year.

Never have graphs been more illuminating. Amory Lovins.

As we said in yesterday's Industrial Decarbonisation Summit wrap, the amount of ideas that poured from the stage was hard to keep up with, as Amory moved through examples from across the globe via densely packed but always-illuminating slides.

"In the past 48 years, saved energy has dropped US energy use by 64 percent, as renewables trebled, but with less cumulative impact," Amory explained.

Why less impact? Because you can see renewables on horizons and rooftops, but energy efficiency resources are often a collection of ideas, and harder to quantify.

From stretching the battery life of devices by writing "elegantly terse code" to the idea that we need not just deployment, but discernment over how much energy we need, Amory used his 45 minutes to inspire.

The next keynote came from Horizon Power's Stephanie Unwin, who described the fascinating electrification of an entire town in WA's south-west.

Horizon Power's Stephanie Unwin

Breaking down the project to completely electrify Esperance from 2021-23, Stephanie did not pull any punches on just how much work went into winning hearts and minds.

Community forums, letterboxing, emails, doorknocks, shopping centre demonstrations, media ... with Stephanie saying some Esperance residents took 25 direct calls to get them through the process.

"Victoria, take note," she added wryly.

Of course the results can't be underestimated, wth the typical household energy bill going from around $1600 in dual fuel homes to under $1000, which, Amory remarked, was twice what we got in last night's budget.

Luke Menzel, RACE for 2030's Bill Lilley, Audrey Zibelman, Amory Lovins and Stephanie Unwin

On the communications problem, Audrey Zibelman responded to a question about where Australia sits on our net zero journey against international comparisons, by noting just how many Australian-developed software and system modelling tools are in use overseas. "We're leading in ways people aren't aware of," she said.

Audrey also compared the current electrification task to that of President Rosevelt's rural electricity act in the 1930s. "Electrification (now) has the same universal value as access to electricity did then," she said.

The 'Practical pathways for phasing out gas' session, featuring Katie Brown, Tennant Reed, Jane Butler, Andrew Richards and chair Jeremy Sung.

This dovetailed with a session on practical pathways for getting off gas, with AGL's Jane Butler and Executive Director of Electrification, Efficiency and Safety for the Victorian government Katie Brown speaking to the importance of ensuring that those who can't afford to take advantage of being a first mover, aren't left behind in Victoria's transition.

Sweltering Cities founder Emma Bacon and Renew CEO Helen Oakey discussed their new report on the amount of energy needed to cool Australia's homes into the future.

Emma began her presentation by reminding us that heatwaves kill more people in Australia than all other natural disasters combined.

Emma pointed to research showing that 68% of people feel unwell on hot days, but that rises to 90% for people with disability, then explained that what drives this vulnerability is inequality, and whether or not you have money to live in a safe home.

Renew's Helen Oakey

Sweltering Cities has been working on heatwaves for four years, and Emma noted how siloed the space is, with housing, health, transport, and climate departments and organisations rarely talking to each other. But she also spoke to the exciting alliances and groups of practice coming together in recognition of the complexity of the problem.

"Everything we build now needs to be safe in a future environment, and be net zero. We're not there yet, we're not sure when our plan is to get there in all jurisdictions," she said.

In the same session, Huntsman Building Solutions / Huntsman Solutions Bâtiments Mickel Maalouf reinforced the compounding benefits of thermally efficient homes extend well beyond health, explaining, "When you have your perfectly sealed building envelope, you can downsize your equipment which directly translates into cost savings and thermal comfort inside the home."

EEC Head of Workforce Development Karla Paeglis, UNSW Energy Institute CEO Dani Alexander, Emma Cannen, ANZ Inclusion Lead Louise Ellis, SEC interim CEO Chris Miller

The widening inequality gap was also discussed in today's session on workforce development, with Jobs and Skills Australia's Emma Cannen explaining that despite clear shortages and industry need, many migrants are under-employed in clean energy due to racism in the workplace. "International students could do part time apprenticeships if working hour limits were lifted - there are levers that can be pulled," she said. "Many of the skills we need for the clean energy industry are already in the economy."

"The parts of the industry that excel better at supporting First Nations, women and international employees will do better in future."

With this in mind, what better way to bring the first day to a close than with a session on the perspectives and opportunities women offer the energy management sector, and how to harness diversity to deliver net zero.

EEC's Rachael Wilkinson, Green Energy Group's Caroline Bennett, Dr Madeline Taylor, GBCA CEO Davina Rooney and EEC Board member Liz Fletcher

One of the most well attended and anticipated sessions of the day, EEC's Rachael Wilkinson led a conversation taking in the barriers women face in the energy sector, while focussing squarely on the solutions, and the clear benefits of greater participation and diversity.

Dr. Madeline Taylor discussed the necessary upskilling for academic leadership, to ensure women returning to universities after time away are able to focus on research to ensure their career progression is not held back.

Green Building Council of Australia CEO Davina Rooney spoke about the practical elements necessary to unpack the cultural aspects of diversity in property and construction. As Davina said, small changes ladder up, and can be as simple as female toilets on construction sites.

EEC Board member Liz Fletcher acknowledged that while most organisations within the energy sector have a positive culture, with so many jobs that need doing and skills being sought, the shift must happen right across the sector to allow greater inclusion.

Employers looking to create more inclusive workplaces, found comfort in the point made by Green Energy and Carbon Management (GECM) CEO Caroline Bennett that if your organisation's objective is to truly attract the best of the best, that approach will often lead to naturally to a more diverse workforce. "Overall, we just try to be a good employer," Caroline said. "And the result is attracting good employees that hang around for a long time."

Of course, there was so, so much more that we haven't begun to touch on. Whole sessions, incredible ideas, speakers who changed the way we thought about schemes, tradies as the key driver of user preferences ... but the Gala Dinner and EEC Awards are calling, and we'll have more to report tomorrow.