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DECC backs research to emulate Australia success in closing ‘performance gap’

4 November 2015

A research project supported by the Department of Energy and Climate Change is to examine whether Australia’s approach to closing the “performance gap” in commercial buildings could also work in the UK.

The four-month project is being run by consultant Verco with backing from the Better Buildings Partnership, Arup, BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust.

Funding is coming from leading players in the UK office market including British Land, Legal & General Property, Stanhope, and Laing O’Rourke, while the British Council for Offices, British Property Federation and UK Green Building Council are also project supporters.

The research will examine the impact of the National Australian Built Environment Rating System – or NABERS – which measures energy efficiency, waste management, water usage and indoor air quality of completed buildings, converting data into a one to six star rating. 

Ratings are also published and searchable on this website. One scheme with a market-leading NABERS rating is 100 St George's Terrace in Perth.

A key factor of the NABERS scheme is that it separates a building’s base energy usage from the tenants’ and occupiers’ usage, requiring the installation of separating metering and M&E systems. In the UK, Display Energy Certificates do not differentiate between the two types of energy use.

100 St George's Terrace in Perth has a market-leading NABERS rating

Robert Cohen, technical director at Verco and project lead for the project, said that transparency on this issue led to a “design for performance” mindset, rather than “design for building regulations compliance”.

The result is that tenants now look for better-performing buildings, and Cohen cites evidence that capital values can be up to 9% higher.

He told Construction Manager: “The system in Australia has been an astounding success. Whenever a building is let or sold, its NABERS rating has to be made available, so it affects the mass market. 

“The study will look at as many of the key differences [between the UK and Australia systems] as possible, but the most important is that they have a concept of looking at a new building and considering the base building from an energy point of view, independent of how the occupants use it.

“So the developer is responsible for the base building, not the tenants’ energy usage. So everyone can target the base building performance without worrying about how the tenants use it. And because NABERS has acquired such an impact in the market, the developers have a design for performance mentality, contrasting with this country where we have essentially a design for compliance approach.

“For this to happen, you have to have the metering in place to measure it, and if everyone knows that they will take more care to get a better rating,” said Cohen.

Cohen acknowledged that there might be a small amount of additional cost in installing separate metering and circuitry systems, but that this could readily be absorbed in overall budgets for prime commercial schemes.

Commenting on the scheme, Julia Evans, chief executive of BSRIA, said: “Tenants are demanding ever higher ratings and landlords are competing to deliver them. NABERS has not only transformed the status of energy efficiency in the whole procurement and construction process, but has made sustaining efficient in-use operation a boardroom priority for property owners. 

“The NABERS approach is deeply aligned with BSRIA’s mission to improve the sustainability performance of existing buildings. We hope this study can demonstrate how its key ingredients might be adapted for use by the UK market and our members can then compete with their Australian counterparts to deliver the most energy efficient prime office buildings on the planet.”

The research project will include an industry workshop on 1 December 2015 to discuss initial findings and future options, and allow Australian experts to be quizzed.

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