Energy efficiency is a jobs machine - and local governments can start it up 17 August 2020
By Holly Taylor
THERE'S been a lot of talk recently about how to kickstart Australia's economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the energy sector.
The momentum towards renewables is unstoppable.
However, there is another, often unsung, side to the energy transition: how efficiently and productively we use our energy.
It isn't as sexy as solar panels on roofs, or as obvious as wind turbines sitting on rolling hills.
But it is crucial, and importantly it is a real jobs machine.
At its heart, energy efficiency is the art of making buildings healthier, cheaper to run and more comfortable.
The data shows that a major drive to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and industry across the nation could deliver more than 120,000 job-years of employment.
Efficiency retrofits and new builds consistently top the charts in comprehensive analyses of energy-related stimulus options by organisations such as the International Energy Agency, the International Monetary Fund and Australia's own Beyond Zero Emissions and Climate Council.
A major push to upgrade Australia's buildings has been backed in by everyone from the Australian Council of Social Service to the Business Council of Australia - not two organisations that you often see on the same page.
But wait, there's more. As energy efficient buildings are more comfortable, people are healthier and happier.
And as industry is more productive, businesses are more competitive.
Plus, energy efficiency saves money, making our companies more resilient to economic shocks.
So, what's not to like? Nothing. I've been working in this space for a while, and I've seen the potential for local councils to drive the energy efficiency revolution.
When I worked for Salix Finance in the United Kingdom, I supported councils in rolling out their energy efficiency programs, including street lighting LED upgrades that cut electricity bills in half.
In Australia, Orange City Council is leading the way.
It is about to save $170,000 in annual electricity costs, as well as $34,000 in maintenance costs, just by upgrading to LED lighting in all of its buildings.
So, if the savings are so significant, how can councils get their ratepayers onside for investments in super sensible - but not very sexy - upgrades to light bulbs, appliances and insulation?
The key is to turn the invisible, visible.
Many councils in the UK use the energy savings to upgrade parks, playgrounds and other public facilities, helping attract new businesses and jobs to the area.
Some councils also use savings to support local businesses and households to improve their own energy use, making them more resilient to economic upheaval and easing the horrible phenomenon known as "bill shock".
Indeed, the most effective council-wide energy efficiency strategies are the ones that combine both council facilities upgrades and programs to support local businesses and households.
CitySwitch is a great way to do this.
This national program, spearheaded by Australian capital cities, represents more than 600 organisations, 16 per cent of Australia's office space, a million people and $1 billion of spending power.
Businesses signing up to CitySwitch agree to an energy rating assessment that allows them and their tenants to see their energy consumption.
They can also receive advice on behaviour change and simple upgrades.
The COVID-19 pandemic, while devastating, has also provided us with a circuit breaker.
We have a chance to rethink our priorities, and the future we need to build to be able to thrive.
It may not be high profile and exciting, but investing in energy efficiency will get us back to work quickly, and help secure our economic future.
On August 19, I will be making a pitch for more councils to drive energy efficiency at the Cities Power Partnership's Re-energise Australia event.
To register or for more details, visit https://bit.ly/3fnZHtJ
Holly Taylor works in projects and partnerships at the Energy Efficiency Council.