As an Irish engineer, who spent over six years living in Australia and became a dual citizen, I have an appreciation of what both nations do well.

For example, my roots in Ireland’s sunny Southeast spur me to predict that the ‘Waterford Blaa’ will eventually become a staple on the menu of Australian barbecues.

When it comes to reducing energy use in the built environment however, I concede that the Aussies got it right, and a long time ago too. With coal being a dominant fuel for power, they had to.

And yes NABERS (National Australian Build Environment Rating System) is pronounced Neighbours, but unlike the cancelled TV show, its audience is expanding globally.

Norman Disney & Young originated in Australia and as a founding signatory on the NABERS program in 2001, is well placed to apply this methodology and already has clients in Ireland considering its use, both on new and existing buildings.

NABERS UK launched in late 2020 and NABERS ratings can officially be certified there. While the certificate is valuable, it is within the methodology and associated energy savings where the real value can be uncovered.

Within the buildings sector there are many ratings tools for developers, landlords and tenants to choose from – each aimed at delivering on aspirations for buildings to minimise their environmental impact and/or improve the occupant experience. WELL, LEED, BREEAM, BER, EPC, CIBSE TM54 and NZEB, Wired Score to name but a few. The WELL Building Standard focuses attention on occupants and enhancing health and wellbeing through design and policy interventions. Wired Score focused on the connectivity of a building. LEED, BREEAM, BER, EPC, CIBSE TM54 and NZEB include energy modelling of a building and require designers to think about how the building can reduce its carbon footprint. Designing for compliance to achieve these ratings will positively impact the carbon footprint. These models can be updated when a building commences operation to represent ‘as built’ conditions and extract monthly energy performance targets to assist with ongoing tuning. Modelling is, however, an abstraction of reality and will almost never accurately represent operations. Assumptions around occupancy numbers, hours of operation, loads, etc. will all change as a building is utilised.

To shift thinking from ‘designing for compliance’, to ‘designing for performance’ requires energy accounting on projects and a better understanding of the actual operation of our buildings. This approach requires an understanding of what a landlord controls, what tenants can control, and how the two interrelate. This could manifest in landlords aiding tenants to reduce their energy consumption and fine-tuning landlord systems to make them as energy efficient as possible.

If the goal is to reduce energy, like any goal it must be measurable.

Firstly, a building must have the ability to measure how much energy it is using and where it is using it – this can be achieved with a good metering strategy such as CIBSE TM39. Metering systems can vary significantly from building to building, depending on the design priorities, building age and level of investment. NABERS facilitates a more consistent approach to this.

A building management system (BMS) alone will not reduce energy consumption and still requires expertise and intervention from a building operator. So secondly, there must be a method of analysing data such that it can provide the building operator with meaningful suggestions for improvement. A smart energy and building analytics system can help identify areas of savings and prioritise them based on potential impact. One example may be systems running outside of occupied hours. The analytics system will detect the potential fault, analyse the cost impact of the fault and alert the operator to intervene. Configuring analytics in the form of potential cost expenditure or saving provides extra incentive for action. Additionally, when coupled with occupancy based detection, the system can alert to potential areas of discomfort for occupants. The next step here is for the building to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) to undertake this tuning without intervention.

Finally, there must be a commitment to ongoing energy management for both the base building and tenants. This commitment needs to be monitored consistently to truly be effective and must have an auditable trail. The NABERS Energy rating tool can provide this level of verification. In order to achieve high ratings, a continual commitment to gathering and benchmarking data is required.

A Smart Building can work hand in hand with NABERS. Building operators and tenants are given access to an analytics portal which can reveal areas for improvement in real financial terms. This innovation provides transparency of building and tenancy operations to those paying the bills, thus providing further incentive to reduce energy use and thereby improve the NABERS Energy rating.

Implementation of NABERS requires considerable sustainability and engineering effort and capability to deliver excellent results. It requires a commitment to design a building for performance. The methodology offers a more integrated approach to sustainability and engineering that can be administered at any point in a building’s lifespan.

Since inception, the NABERS government website notes savings of seven million tonnes of carbon emissions and one billion dollars in energy bill reductions. Personally, I have seen existing buildings achieve energy reductions of over 30% by lifting their NABERS rating by a single star. The essential need to reduce carbon and arrest the climate crisis is becoming more urgent and Irish businesses should not wait for legislation before acting as designers and influencers of the built environment.

Foot notes

My overarching goal in writing this article was to provide joined up thinking on next steps for a low carbon future.
While my background is in mechanical engineering, the majority of my career has been spent leading projects that include multiple engineering disciplines such as electrical, sustainability and digital buildings. I have led teams as a consultant, a contractor and a client. I have also led teams that include accountants.
This article is about engineering and accounting and where the two can, and must, come together.
The article was borne out of video conference discussion with colleagues at NDY one early Tuesday morning. I am privileged to work alongside some multi-disciplined, forward thinking, passionate experts at NDY. The content of this article was compiled from brain storming sessions with the aforementioned experts. It includes contributions from colleagues in Ireland, the UK and Australia.

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Mike Arnold
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