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Key 'green' technologies in commercial property development

What are the key ‘green’ technologies in commercial property development and how are they rated?

Government initiatives to lessen the environmental impact of commercial properties in NSW have driven investment in the introduction and retrofitting of ‘green’ technology in commercial developments.

State Government programs to incentivise the retrofitting of existing buildings to increase energy efficiency include the NSW Energy Savings Scheme, where tradeable Energy Saving Certificates are awarded for the installation of more efficient equipment and services.

The NSW Government can also provide funding assistance for building energy audits, which include an energy improvement plan for buildings.
Several Local Government Areas have introduced Environmental Upgrade Agreements or EUAs, according to CBRE Head of Sustainability Rebecca Pearce.

“This is more of an alternative financing methodology that allows the sharing of upgrade costs with the building tenants via an Environmental Upgrade Charge levied by the council,” she said.

“Where savings are made, these charges can be passed on to tenants through outgoings.

“This overcomes the split-incentive argument that the tenant is the main beneficiary (through reduced outgoings) of the owner’s investment in energy efficiency,” Pearce said.

It can be difficult to keep abreast of the various building ratings schemes. Some companies now have a minimum National Australian Built Environmental Rating System (NABERS) and Green Star rating requirement for their office space.

For example, the Commonwealth Government has a minimum 4.5 Green Star rating requirement for its properties. It currently has office space located at the office 1 Bligh St in Sydney, designed by Architectus and Ingenhoven Architects of Germany. The award-winning property has a 6 Green Star rating and a 5-star NABERS rating.

So just what are these two ratings schemes? NABERS launched under the name Australian Building Greenhouse Rating in 1998 as a ratings tool for office buildings (see box on the right). The scheme is managed by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and is a key element of the Commercial Building Disclosure program.

It is easy to confuse NABERS with the Green Star rating scheme that was launched a few years later in 2003. The system, developed by the Green Building Council of Australia, rates buildings on their environmental design and construction across nine categories (see box).

“Buildings that are better to be in, with more natural light and fresh air and low Volatile Organic Compound materials [such as fumes from paints and protective coatings applied to furnishings], are healthier for their inhabitants, which has a direct bearing on productivity,” said Architectus Managing Director Ray Brown.

“Energy savings made with more efficient technology lower outgoings and ensure buildings built today are competitive when their second and third lease cycles come around.”

The top green features being incorporated into commercial properties today are:

  • Photovoltaics (solar panels) generate energy locally.
  • Gas fired tri-generation is the local generation of electricity through burning gas, then the capture of the waste heat to create hot water and to power an absorption chiller to cool the building.
  • Biomass such as waste paper products or waste timber can be used to create biogas through a gasification process. This can then be used in co- or tri-generation systems to generate energy and heat.
  • Double skin facade technology allows ventilation to flow between the outer wall of a building and a second skin. The cavity can be naturally or mechanically ventilated and can be conducive to cooling and heating a property.
  • Chilled Beam air conditioning passes pipes of water through a ‘beam’ (heat exchanger) that cools hot air as it rises to the ceiling. As the air cools it gets denser and falls creating a convection cycle.

Recycled black water and rainwater can be used for washroom flushing systems as well as plant irrigation.

NABERS vs Green Star

The National Australian Built Environmental Rating System (NABERS) is an energy rating system used to benchmark the greenhouse performance of office premises. Ratings can be awarded for a whole building, base building (central services) and/or tenancy. The ratings scale goes from 1 (poor) to 6 (market leading). The current average for office buildings in Australia is 2.5-stars. It is essential to get accredited in order to report or promote your rating.

Green Star is the building rating system for the Green Building Council of Australia. The rating tool assesses buildings against nine categories, ranging from water to emissions, and rates their environmental impact. The certification scale starts at 4-star (Best Practice) through to 6-star (World Leader). Green Star requires an official certification, but in the meantime it is possible to download the tools so as to benchmark and improve environmental attributes.

This article was first published in the May 2013 edition of the REINSW Real Estate Journal.