Building ambition

Tony Arnel
Tony Arnel

The Energy Efficiency Council’s new president has been tasked with one of the most formidable challenges of our era: strengthening the economy while decarbonising Australia. His outlook, however, is refreshingly optimistic. ES&D catches up with Tony Arnel to discuss sophisticated network planning, improving regulation and the importance of an ambitious attitude.

At a critical moment in the energy debate, Australia’s peak body for energy efficiency, cogeneration and demand management has welcomed Tony Arnel to its helm.

The global director of sustainability at engineering consultancy firm Norman Disney & Young (NDY), Tony has been charged with helping the Energy Efficiency Council (EEC) prosecute the case for forward-looking energy management policy in Australia.

Globally, the question of whether there is merit in energy efficiency has well passed, which leaves Tony directing conversation about how to drive it to ambitious new targets.

“From talking with members and people associated with the industry, it’s clear a really strong momentum is building around how energy efficiency can be a central plank in both strengthening the economy and achieving a low carbon future,” Tony says.

While much of the public debate often focuses on renewables – particularly around the photovoltaic space where costs are reducing and efficiency improving – Tony says energy efficiency will deliver the biggest reduction in emissions over the next two decades, at the same time as boosting productivity and slashing energy bills.

“The solution to our energy issues lies in finding the right combination of energy efficiency and renewables. On one hand, we need to support renewable and low carbon electricity technologies and policies going forward. On the other hand, we need to promote ambitious energy efficiency, particularly in the building sector,” he says.

Tony would know. An architect by trade, he’s been committed to the development of policies and platforms that support smarter energy use for the past 40 years. His diverse portfolio of roles have included the director of city strategy and development with the City of Melbourne and commissioner with the Victorian Building Commission – and he’s taken out a host of honours and awards for leadership along the way.

As an advocate of reducing emissions and improving economic growth, Tony says he has drawn on his diverse background in building and architecture, city strategy and development, policy and communications to contribute meaningfully to the international energy debate.

“You don’t get anything done by going it alone. Having chaired the Green Building Council, for five years, and being involved with other boards, I’ve learnt you get things done through collaboration – through partnerships,” he says.

“One of the ways the EEC has impressed me, even though it’s still maturing as an organisation, is its strong membership. It has a good following and is focused on making energy efficiency the platform to deal with what is the challenge of today: tackling climate change while keeping our economy strong.”

Tony takes the council’s wider association with its members and partners very seriously. AGL has been a valuable member of the EEC for years, along with the likes of Schneider Electric, Honeywell, Veolia and Philips.

“We’ve also got leading Australian companies like Energetics and Ecosave on board as well as one of the world leaders in energy and environmental efficiency, Cofely. These are groups that are looking to be part of the whole game and making sure we get the right balance of outcomes, including taking up the new technologies, as they are introduced,” he says.

“However the EEC doesn’t just represent the big boys – the vast bulk of members are small to medium enterprises providing expert energy services to homes and businesses across the Australian economy.”

It’s a dynamic and responsive sector, and the growing EEC member base is testament to the increasingly important role it’s playing in the Australian economy.

Of course, a holistic approach to reducing energy intensity means involving government on a federal and state level. In terms of strategy settings, Tony believes the EEC has a central role to play in advocating where and how targets should be set. And, while governments – being governments – will always be influenced by external factors, Tony is encouraged with just how much sway the EEC does have.

“One of the things I’ve been most impressed with in my time on the EEC board and now as president, is just how much we are listened to. The sphere of influence has been built up by others before my time, including staff members Luke Menzel and Rob Murray-Leach, who have done some fantastic work in shaping the future,” he says.

“The council does have the power to influence governments, particularly state governments, in terms of policy. I use my own state, Victoria, as an example. We were given a new government last November and they are, without getting too ahead of the game, very enthusiastic about driving energy efficiency to a new level. We’ve had some very helpful and constructive early meetings with new ministers here in Victoria, and that’s very encouraging.

“What I also see around Australia is a lot of interest in that policy space about how we can get energy efficiency to a new level, and make sure we reduce the intensity of energy use – that’s our big challenge.”

At the centre of the EEC’s policy reform is demand management, which Tony sees as the ticket to improving energy efficiency while keeping costs down for both industry and consumers.

“Consumers want two things: they want a balance between reliability and affordability. So managing energy use is one of the most important ways we can hit both of those goals. It’s pretty simple – you have to have reliability and you need affordability, and intelligent energy management gets you there,” Tony says.

“Energy savings can provide a very reliable source of capacity, as they are generally aggregated from a large number of sites and provide more resilience than relying on a small number of generators or connectors.”

In a nutshell, it’s a move towards a more sophisticated form of network planning: one that is thoughtful, intelligent low cost and reliable.  A transition is needed, because when compared to the rest of the world – we still have a long way to go to really unlock the benefits for both networks and consumers.

“Our leadership credentials are a bit mixed. We’ve had some good results in terms of putting in minimum standards for buildings with energy efficiency, but we can certainly do more,” Tony says.

“But we are a leader in some other areas, and one of the good examples that come to mind is the Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) scheme, which ironically is under review at the moment. In the commercial space, this has been able to demonstrate what buildings do and don’t perform well, and provide important information in the marketplace where the consumer or tenant can make informed decisions about what they want to invest in.

“Work by the NSW Government shows there has been a significant energy use saving since CBD was introduced in 2010. That’s a good example of where the EEC has been able to provide some leadership.”

Leadership is something the EEC would like to provide more of. However, there are obstacles in the way, and the current period of political uncertainty regarding energy policy isn’t helping. With government vision lacking and investor confidence waning, the cogeneration industry is just one example of where Australia’s regulatory framework has stalled low carbon efforts.

Melbourne’s Docklands precinct has among the highest concentration of 6 Star Green Star buildings in the country, with many housing cogeneration plants. However, a significant number of plants are still unable to work to capacity because of issues associated with selling back into the grid – one of the advantages of installing a cogeneration plant in the first place.

“Regulation and infrastructure needs are being looked at, in fact, there has been progress made in this space in the last few years – but there is still a long way to go,” Tony says.

“I spend some time in NDY’s West Melbourne office, where I actually look out over the Docklands. This precinct has the most six-storey Green Star office buildings in Australia and many have co-gen plants.  Most of them aren’t commissioned!  So the importance of having a better regulatory framework for the industry to work in, and having the infrastructure that’s provided by the power companies to be able to support the sellback of electricity, is very obvious to me.

“There’s no need to be too negative about having a mixed record. Australia has had some successes, we’ve had some challenges, and the next five years is really important in terms of how we take energy efficiency to another level.”

For now, however, Tony and his colleagues at the EEC are keen to take up discussions with the two new state governments along the east coast.

“Both Queensland and Victoria are very interested in energy efficiency, and the New South Wales Government has already been a leader in efficiency in the past three years. I’m not discounting the other states and territories, but 70 per cent of the population lives in the three eastern states, and being able to influence some of the government policy making will be very important,” he says.

“The main thing for me is to see the energy efficiency industry grow and become much more mainstream. We’ve made an impact in the past five years, but I’d like to see us make more of a splash.

“Even if climate change wasn’t with us, this is still worth doing”.

For Tony, the measure of this is simple: greatly reduce energy intensity and drive the economy. It’s a straightforward, high-level KPI. But at the end of the day, it needs to be achieved.

“If we’re going to avoid 2°C temperature rises, energy efficiency has to be a lot more ambitious. This is one of the key things for me… not just making incremental improvements in the next decade, but also being more ambitious in energy,” he says.

“We’re aiming high, but where we want to get to… it’s where we need to get to.”