The critical decade: Making energy work 17 June 2019

This speech was delivered at the Energy Efficiency Council’s tenth anniversary celebration on 12 June 2019.

We are here to celebrate ten years of the Energy Efficiency Council. However I want to make it clear who we are celebrating. It is not me, or our founding CEO Rob Murray-Leach, or the rest of the EEC team. It isn’t our President, Professor Tony Arnel or the rest of the Board.

The Council is its members. I work for you. We all do. The Council is sole traders and multinational corporations. Local governments, universities and not for profits. 

I wasn’t there at the very beginning, but Rob has told the story many times. In that first year, back in 2009, he figured, well, we’re a new industry body, we had better hold a conference. Rob booked a room for 60 people for that first Conference, and felt he was being optimistic. 180 people showed up. From a standing start. 

That tells me that the makings of Australia’s energy efficiency community were already there, latent. The energy wonks around the country that couldn’t abide the fact that we spent all our time talking about where our energy comes from, without ever thinking about how much of it we were wasting. The Energy Efficiency Council provided some structure around which all these individuals could coalesce. And by investing in this association you’ve helped build an industry.

I was looking at the program for that first conference back in 2009. It included a quote from a young up-and-comer in the energy efficiency space named Jon Jutsen. It said, “I’ve been in energy efficiency for 25 years. Finally the sector has a voice.” By banding together, you have given yourself a voice that didn’t exist ten years ago. And you’ve built a broader network of friends and partners – many of whom are also in this room – the extended family that allows us to have an impact.

Ten years in, we can’t declare mission accomplished. But we have accomplished a hell of a lot, and I don’t want to let that go unremarked.

Advocacy has been a core focus from the beginning, because from the outset the Council recognised government policy is a crucial driver for developing sophisticated markets for energy management products and services. 

The Commercial Building Disclosure program has been put in place, then expanded, raising the impact of NABERS and dramatically improving the energy performance of Australia’s office buildings. The Council promoted investment in the energy efficiency of government agencies, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. The Clean Technology Investment Program upgraded manufacturing facilities around the country, mitigating the impact of recent, rapid increases in gas and electricity prices. The Council has been a tireless advocate for demand response, with a suite of changes to energy market rules already in place, and more on the way that will drive down power prices. And the Council helped save Victorian Energy Upgrades, ensuring that one of the country’s premier energy efficiency programs continued to deliver savings to families across the state as prices started to rise. 

We have done a huge amount beyond policy as well, steadily expanding our activities to encompass training, certification, events, and, over the past couple of years, working to build energy literacy in businesses across the economy. But you know what our number one achievement of the last ten years? We created this community. And it is a bloody good thing we did too. Because Australia needs us now more than ever.

We had a great policy forum this afternoon. The take out for me was that we need to ensure the next decade isn’t just about pumping renewables into the system. In a lot of ways, that’s the easy bit. As the penetration of wind and solar rises, we need to make our homes and businesses more efficient, and accelerate the development of a large, sophisticated market for energy management. As Audrey Zibelman said earlier, we need to facilitate the kind of demand side flexibility that will enable a 21st century energy system.

To put it simply – the renewables folk are going to decarbonise the energy system. They already are. But the future of Australia’s economy is in this room. Because it is the people in this room – the energy management experts – that are going to make the energy system efficient, flexible, and affordable. We are the ones that can make Australia’s energy system work.

So that’s our job for the next ten years. Whether you are a tradie, an engineer, an advocate, a policy maker, a politician or an entrepreneur. We have to roll up our sleeves and make sure we have the policy, the technology and the business models that make this thing work. 

I firmly believe we can do this, but we can’t do it alone. We need to expand and activate the network we have created to shape the debates of the 2020s. We need to arm our friends across the advocacy community with the data and the arguments that will win the debate. We need to train up a whole new generation of energy management professionals working in every sector of the economy.

And more than anything else, we need to get better at talking about this stuff. We need find a way of explaining that the 21st century energy system isn’t a slightly crappier version of the old one. It is actually better. Its houses that are warm by the time you get home. Businesses with lower bills because they shift load dynamically and use energy when it is cheap. And an energy system that is off the front pages because it just works.

So it's been a big decade, and there is another big one ahead of us. But tonight we all deserve a drink. So I want to propose a toast, to all of you; members, partners, and friends. To everything we have achieved over the last ten years, and everything we are going to achieve.

To the Energy Efficiency Council.

Luke Menzel is CEO of the Energy Efficiency Council. This speech has been edited for clarity.