Retrofitting public buildings for energy and water efficiency

15 Apr 2017

Governments occupy a significant proportion of building stock, and their associated annual energy and water consumption costs can be substantial. Research has shown that significant reductions in energy and water consumption and carbon emissions can be achieved through retrofitting public buildings. However, in most countries, the current retrofitting rate is very low due to a number of barriers, including lack of supportive legislation, regulations, guidelines, industry capacity and financing mechanisms.

This research aimed to address this issue through developing a best practice guide to retrofitting public buildings, identifying the barriers to the uptake of retrofitting activities and developing strategies to overcome these. A number of research methods were applied, including literature reviews, interviews, numerical modelling, case studies and focused group workshops with stakeholders.

Through a comprehensive review of national and international literature and practices, this research identified five key components of a successful retrofitting project. Numerical models were developed to assess the influence of different financing options and procurement methods on public building retrofit outcomes. The modelling results indicate that a revolving loan fund (RLF) supporting an energy performance contract (EPC) procurement strategy can be the best option for retrofitting many government buildings in Australia. However, RLF may work best for projects with shorter payback periods. Also, for low-risk projects (for example, lighting replacement), the use of EPC may unnecessarily increase the project cost and time. Alternative procurement models may be used, depending on the project value, project complexity, project risk profile and project team skill and leadership.

Based on the review of relevant guidelines around the world, this research has developed a Public Building Retrofitting Guideline. It was found that effective implementation of retrofitting guidelines depends on the collective actions of four key stakeholders: 1. The government department in charge 2. The facilitation team 3. The Energy Service Company (ESCO) 4. The individual government department or agency which is the owner of the building asset that requires retrofitting

The government department in charge has the responsibility of introducing the appropriate policies, regulations and mandates. It is usually the one which holds and allocate the resources for retrofitting, e.g. Department of Treasury and Finance. The facilitation team is a central team which assists the individual government department or agency throughout the retrofitting process of their building. The ESCO is responsible for auditing, developing a business proposal, installing the selected retrofit measures and monitoring the performance of installed retrofit measures. Finally, the role of the individual government department or agency is to take necessary steps to retrofit the buildings under their portfolio by following the retrofitting guidelines and seeking necessary assistance from the facilitation team.

To identify the barriers hindering the uptake of building retrofitting activities and corresponding coping strategies, two focused workshops were conducted in two different Australian States with participants from relevant management roles in different government departments. From the workshops and key stakeholder consultations, lack of mandate was identified as one of the major barriers. Governments’ willingness to introduce mandatory policies and financing mechanisms is mostly influenced by the ‘net debt’ over the forward estimate period. Retrofitting projects normally have longer payback periods which may result in an increase in this debt. As a result, the building retrofitting projects are seen as a cost rather than producing savings. Other barriers are lack of dedicated funding, lengthy and complex procurement processes, no incentives for the agencies to prioritise efficiency projects, and lack of knowledge and capability to manage retrofit projects. Possible solutions to overcoming these and other barriers are discussed. The outcomes of this industry-led research can provide evidence-based support to policy-makers and help governments to develop and implement comprehensive public retrofitting policies and programs to achieve energy and water efficiency in their buildings.

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