Buildings overview

Investing in the overall energy efficiency of buildings can often improve asset value due to reduced costs in operation and maintenance, and higher amenity levels for occupants. Energy-efficient green buildings secure tenants more quickly, have lower tenant turnover, command higher rents and prices, and improve the productivity of occupants.

Increasingly, government and large corporations are using green leases that require owners of office and commercial building space to meet certain energy-efficiency standards. The Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) program requires sellers or lessors of office space with a minimum net lettable area of 1000 square metres to obtain and disclose an up-to-date energy-efficiency rating.

Opportunities to save

Significant energy-saving opportunities are available for buildings in the following areas.

Improve lighting efficiency

Lighting can account for up to 40% of total electricity use and energy cost in the commercial sector, depending on facility type. There are numerous low and no-cost measures to save on lighting, such as automated lighting control and removing unnecessary lighting.

Combining such measures with the upgrading of lighting equipment can result in large savings in lighting costs. Substantial reduction in the price of light emitting diodes (LEDs) in recent years makes the business case for upgrades even stronger.

Improve heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) efficiency

HVAC accounts for 30–50% of the total energy bill for commercial building operators. Minimising the energy required for space heating and cooling, and increasing HVAC efficiency is therefore a good cost-effective strategy. Significant energy-savings are possible through the clever design and construction of new buildings, for example by combining passive heating and ventilation principles with efficient mechanical systems. There are also many possibilities to improve heating and cooling performance in existing buildings, through building and equipment upgrades, and system tuning and maintenance.

Upgrade appliances, electronic, office, cooking and refrigeration equipment

Using the latest technological advances and energy-efficient models in appliances, office, cooking and refrigeration equipment can reduce energy usage of these items by at least 15% and as much as 70% with good returns on investment.

Improve server and data centre efficiency

The use of data centre services is growing as businesses increase their offerings of digital services. Servers and data centres use significant amounts of energy to keep equipment operating and cooled. Numerous reports and case studies show that energy-efficiency improvements of up to 70% are possible.

Implement building energy management systems

Rapid reductions in costs, and improvements in performance of sensors and monitoring systems, are making it more cost effective to improve monitoring of energy. Improved data can be used for benchmarking, managing when energy is used (to minimise cost), diagnoses of energy waste and optimisation of system performance.

Consider installing solar PV

The continued fall in the price of solar PV makes this technology a viable option for some building types, especially where an extensive roof area is available. As solar PV production (sunshine) often coincides with business operating hours, most of this energy is consumed on site and payback on investment can be achieved in as little as 3-5 years. 

Consider co-generation or tri-generation systems

Use of co-generation and tri-generation systems can help reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20–30%, with a return on investment when appropriately implemented. Co-generation or tri-generation can be considered at certain sites where there is a consistently high demand for heating, such as for heating public swimming pools.

For more information, see Buildings opportunities to save.

Case studies

1200 Buildings Program - Financing building retrofits City of Melbourne 

Clean Energy Finance Corporation Case studies and news

Energy Efficiency at the University of Queensland University of Queensland

Sustainable building case studies City of Melbourne 

More information

Australian Government

Guide to best practice maintenance and operation of HVAC systems for energy efficiency

Australian Energy Update 2019

Buildings research and analysis

Commercial Building Disclosure program 

Emissions Reduction Fund 

Energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings: Jobs and skills implications 

Energy Efficiency in Government Operations

Energy-Mass Balance: Commercial Buildings

Green Leases

National Australian Built Environment Rating System

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)

Other resources

Energy audits - Commercial buildings SAI Global 

Built Environment Climate Works

Calculating Cool Sustainability Victoria

CitySwitch includes cases studies and resources.

Australian Building Codes Board

Energy Efficiency Council

The Fifth Estate

International Energy Agency