Main image: Germany’s rush to renewables let energy efficiency measures fall – to a degree – by the wayside
Australia’s increasing focus on demand response and energy efficiency is setting the country up to bypass the mistakes made by the world leader in renewables, says a German energy expert.
“Australia can learn from Germany’s mistakes of the last few years,” the deputy chairman of the German Business Initiative for Energy Efficiency, the nation’s peak energy efficiency body, Christoph von Spesshardt said.
“I can see similarities between the situation in Australia now and Germany 10 years ago,” he told Fairfax Media.
While Germany has led the way globally in renewables it lent too heavily on renewables to solve its energy issues, setting guaranteed kilowatt per hour prices that led to generation becoming highly overpriced and bloated by high feed-in tariffs, Mr von Spesshardt said.
Germany focused on replacing supply without looking at the wider measures that ensure affordability and reliability.
“It was, and is, way too expensive a system for renewable energy.”
Mr von Spesshardt said Australia was sidestepping many of the mistakes Germany made by talking not only about the supply side and the growing level of renewables but also the demand response side and how users can get smarter about the way they consume it.
“The energy you save is the cleanest and the cheapest,” he said.
The challenge for Australia is to get good stability as well as renewable supply.
The CSIRO’s Low Emissions Technology Roadmap found that if Australia works to meet its Paris targets of lower emissions, it can achieve it with 50 per cent renewable generation, however, if this is not done in conjunction with energy efficiency measures then Australia will need 70 per cent renewable generation to hit the same emissions reduction levels.
He commended the Australian government not only on its recent reviews of its household appliance energy efficiency as well as its building code energy efficiency but that more needs to be done in this space.
“What I see is great is the Australian government talking about energy efficiency, it’s a good start to talk about appliances and buildings,” he said.
“While it’s the right step forward to review energy efficiency policies, and we do hear a lot on that at the federal level, not enough is happening compared to the state level of government.”
The review of the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act (GEMS) will allow the federal government to set national energy efficiency standards for home appliances and equipment.
Image: Christoph von Spesshardt of the German business Initiative for Energy Efficiency
By bringing in new standards and reducing appliances’ energy consumption, household power bills can be reduced, with the current legislation understood to have saved the nation and energy consumers the equivalent of between $879 million and $1.58 billion and reduced potential carbon emissions by between 4.5 and 6.9 megatonnes.
However, Australia’s energy efficiency building codes have not been updated since 2010. According to the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV), if these codes are not updated in 2019 it could result in $1.1 billion in unnecessary extra costs on household energy bills between now and 2022.
“Low energy homes reduce the stress on the electricity grid, which can reduce electricity prices for everyone,” RACV spokesman Bryce Prosser said.
This is fast becoming a priority for the federal government.
“Increasing the energy efficiency of Australia’s buildings is a government priority, as the built environment represents up to half of Australia’s electricity use,” Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told Fairfax Media.
“That’s why the COAG Energy Council and the Commonwealth under its National Energy Productivity Plan to deliver a 40 per cent improvement in energy efficiency by 2030 is taking action on both residential and commercial buildings, including a recent expansion of commercial building disclosure.
“Energy efficiency standards for commercial buildings are being considered in the current revision of the National Construction Code in 2019, and my Department is actively working with stakeholders ahead of any further changes to residential buildings in the future.”
Mr von Spesshardt said buildings codes are one of the pillars of Germany’s triangle approach of carrots, sticks and tambourines, and more needs to be done in Australia.
“The building codes are the sticks, tightening the legislation around construction, Australia could have more ambitious building codes as it would help lower the running costs of construction for new buildings,” he said.
“The carrot can be incentives for improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings with loans or grants to aid renovation. The tambourines are talking about it, making noise and getting people informed.
“What I see in Australia is a great ‘can do’ mentality, and I hope you can do this now with energy efficiency, and this opportunity is seen by policymakers.”