Energy Efficiency at the National Climate Emergency Summit 02 March 2020

The first National Climate Emergency Summit took place  a couple of weeks ago on a sweltering day in Melbourne. The line to enter Town Hall stretched most of the way down Collins street – a testament to the number of people eager for solutions and action to one of the world’s most pressing current issues.

The conference highlighted speakers from all corners of the economy: some familiar, like Peter Garrett, former Environment Minister and front man of Midnight Oil; and some more surprising, such as Ian Dunlop, former chair of the Australian Coal Association.

This is important: we have the power to cross political divides in the climate debate, and this is essential to solving the crisis. During the summit, there was much discussion around the ideas and aspirations around climate solutions. This is still incredibly important, but far less talk about actual practical solutions that we can prioritise and action right now took place.

Amongst the talk about practical solutions, energy efficiency and energy management barely registered. Renewables, on the other hand, received a shout-out in nearly every segment. Renewables have been a hot topic in Australia for quite a while now, and for good reason – but we can hardly pursue renewables without energy efficiency. Pursuing efficiency in line with renewables is critical and can provide over 90% of the mitigation needed in the energy system by 2050. Energy efficiency alone could enable more than 40% of global emissions reductions- no technology needed.

The lack of energy efficiency talk is concerning, with the EU having just legislated the European Green Deal and its principle of "energy efficiency first", which recognises energy efficiency as the cheapest and quickest way to reduce emissions.

Over 12 hours of discussion, I caught two mentions of energy efficiency:

  1. Brendan Condon of ‘Live at the Cape’ in Cape Paterson described the luxury efficient homes being built there. Houses at The Cape impressively achieve an average NatHERs rating of 8-stars and maintain an indoor temperature of 18-25 degrees year-round. While these homes are far out of reach for many Australians (both financially and physically), they are an important step in the mainstreaming of energy efficient houses. If we can make efficient housing attractive in the way The Cape houses are, they may become desirable to the average person and consumers will soon demand better housing (though indeed, many renters and low-income earners do not have a choice). Brendan also mentioned blower door testing to validate energy savings in their buildings. This was exciting because, while blower door testing is not standard practice in Australia, with the extreme draughtiness of the housing stock here, it should be. While it was interesting to hear about and see beautiful, newly-built energy efficient homes on the coast, the conference didn’t mention the millions of existing homes which achieve horrendously low energy ratings. Practical solutions here need to be determined – fast.
  2. Paul Gilding, former executive director of Greenpeace International briefly mentioned energy efficiency in a small laundry list of things we should be pursuing to reduce emissions. I had hoped for elaboration, but found none.

While the climate debate remains contentious, energy efficiency is an easy conversation to have. With the energy and cost savings associated with energy efficiency, the fact that GDP can continue to grow as energy consumption falls, and not to mention the job creation possible in the efficiency sector, it truly is a no-brainer.

Despite the lack of energy efficiency discussion, I’m optimistic, and I believe hope for the future was a key take-away from the summit. There are more people from more sectors, including non-traditional ones, coming together to solve this massive issue. If we put energy efficiency at the front and centre of action, we can bring people together to work on the most practical solution of all.

Julianne Tice is Project Officer at the Energy Efficiency Council, Australia's industry association for energy management, energy efficiency and demand response.