Making the invisible visible: Three big insights from a global leader in energy efficiency 08 April 2019

By Luke Menzel

The energy debate in Australia is incredibly parochial; a casual observer would conclude that no other nation in the world is grappling with the energy challenges facing Australia (spoiler alert; we’re not that special). 

So it was great to chair an intimate lunch yesterday with leaders from Australia's energy, property, environment and finance sectors and hear from a business leader with an international perspective on the energy system transformation occurring around the world. 

Harry Verhaar is Chair of the European Alliance to Save Energy and Global Head of Government and Public Affairs at Signify. He is also deeply engaged in a range of organisations – like like the Climate Group, the We Mean Business Coalition and the World Green Building Council – that are attempting to drive a more mature conversation around energy and carbon around the globe.

He is especially passionate about making sure we don't forget about the 40% of carbon mitigation that needs to be delivered by energy efficiency to hit net zero by 2050. And he has thought deeply about how we elevate the energy efficiency conversation to a first order priority for households, business and government.

It was a wide ranging conversation, but there were three big take-outs for me from the session. 

Explain how energy efficiency enables all the stuff people already want. Energy efficiency is the perennial afterthought when considering solutions to our energy challenges. There is always something more shiny; renewables, batteries, hydrogen... you get my drift. 

Harry believes the best way to overcome this is to step people through how energy efficiency enables an outcome they are already excited about. For example, there is lot of interest in transitioning quickly to electric vehicles, but rapid adoption of EVs will put a huge amount of new load on the system. This could have big implications for generation infrastructure and network stability. So Harry worked with with the Rocky Mountain Institute on a report shows that an ambitious, rolling program to upgrade the energy performance of buildings could reduce system load enough to accommodate an equally ambitious ramp up in EVs. 

Increasing the energy performance of buildings? Everyone is a bit meh. Doing that so we can have a Tesla in every driveway? Now you're talking.

Innovation in energy efficiency is about business models, not technology. I've been banging this drum for a while, and Harry reinforced it; we already have proven technology that can quickly ramp up the energy performance of our economy. What is lacking are the new business models to scale it up. 

Harry noted one business model that is gaining real momentum overseas. Lighting and cooling as a service sees companies installing and operating highly efficient equipment on site under a long term service agreement, with no upfront capital cost. Making efficiency an operating expenditure rather than a capital expenditure works much better for some businesses. But this is just one model. Government support and effort should be focused on testing innovative business models here in Australia, and scaling up the ones that work. 

We need to make energy efficiency tangible. Making the invisible visible was the big theme of our National Energy Efficiency Conference in 2018, and Harry picked it up. 

He talked his his experience getting education departments in Europe motivated to roll out lighting upgrades. Saving money wasn’t the primary driver. The motivator was the benefits to students of better lit class rooms, and LEDs that can be adjusted to support the mood the teacher wants to foster; dimmer and warmer light for settling the class down, brighter and whiter light for waking them up. In France this program – Bright Schools – delivered a big energy efficiency outcome, but the tangible benefit that students, teachers, parents and politicians could get behind had nothing to do with energy savings.

Thanks to Harry for being so generous with his time. It was great to press pause on the cut and thrust of the local debate for a couple of hours and hear what is driving the energy efficiency agenda forward overseas. And it was helpful for me and the others in the room to sharpen our thinking on how we can ensure the 2020s are the decade in which Australia embraces energy efficiency as core plank of the broader energy transition.

Luke Menzel is Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Efficiency Council, Australia’s peak body for energy efficiency, energy management and demand response. Luke leads the Council’s work to make sensible, cost effective energy efficiency measures standard practice across the Australian economy, and is deeply engaged in energy policy both federally and in states across the country.

Before being appointed CEO, Luke led the development of a new Australian certification scheme for professionals that manage comprehensive energy upgrades of commercial buildings. The Energy Efficiency Certification Scheme launched in 2013.

Luke sits on a number of government and independent advisory committees, and is Vice President of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC).