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Building Construction, Environment

Energy savings stay wasted in the envelope as we break records heading towards the 2030 Emissions Gap

Boon Edam Australia 8 mins read

By Michael Fisher*, Managing Director, Boon Edam Australia

Boosting the energy efficiency of Australia’s built environment will be integral to Australia’s redoubled response to the emissions gap between current Paris Agreement targets and reductions currently being achieved.


The UN Environment Programme’s latest annual Emissions Gap Report says that, like a broken record, temperatures globally continue to hit new highs, as the world fails to cut emissions sufficiently to avoid a temperature rise far above the Paris agreement’s goals for 2030.


It acknowledges progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, when emissions were projected to increase by 16 per cent at the time of the agreement’s adoption. Today, the projected increase is 3 per cent.


However, predicted greenhouse gas emissions still must fall by 28 per cent for the Paris Agreement’s 2 deg C pathway and 42 per cent for the1.5 per cent pathway. Currently, achieving Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) would set the world on a path to limit temperature rise to 2.9 deg C above pre-industrial levels – not good enough.


This gap between emissions reductions targets and actual achievements is happening against a background of countries around the world, including Australia, continuing to expand their total built environment, contributing to emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. It notes that by 2030, global built floor area is expected to increase by around 15%, equivalent to the entire built floor area of North America today.


Existing stock of commercial buildings in Australia are responsible for about 24 per cent of per cent of this country’s total annual electricity consumption, according to the final report of the Commercial Building Baseline Study prepared for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW).


The 227 petajoule (PJ) annual electricity use quoted in the report – plus another 40 PJ of gas – was responsible for 46.9 Mt CO2-equivalent of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions from the 830 million sq m of gross floor area involved. The commercial building sector is responsible for around 25% of overall electricity use and 10% of total carbon emissions in Australia.


And total non-residential building continues to grow – and to be a major contributor to energy demand, as millions of square metres are added annually, with the commercial and industrial building and construction industry growing by about 5 per cent a year. As Australia’s stock of non-residential buildings surges past a million for the first time in its history, energy experts are looking at ways to reduce the power consumption of both new and existing commercial buildings.


Australia has responded to the globally acknowledged need to lower emissions faster by measures including updating this year the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings, a measure originally agreed five years ago by all Commonwealth, State and Territory energy ministers.


The Trajectory – which is scheduled to be updated by the end of 2024 – is a national plan that aims to achieve zero energy and carbon-ready commercial and residential buildings in Australia. It is a key initiative to address Australia’s 40% energy productivity improvement target by 2030 under the National Energy Productivity Plan. 


The update is occurring against the background of the Australian Government having previously lodged an updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat. The updated NDC:


  • Commits Australia to a more ambitious 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030, which is a 15 percentage point increase on Australia’s previous 2030 target
  • Reaffirms Australia’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, with an annual report to Parliament on progress achieved.


Submissions are now being sought for this review, with the update to be delivered by the end of the year, covering aspects such as:


  • Support the delivery of a low energy, net zero emissions residential and commercial building sector by 2050
  • Consider the success of the existing program
  • Help develop the policy pathway for the building sector to achieve net zero by 2050.


One of the areas of commercial building that deserves greater scrutiny (and this applies in higher-density residential buildings too) is the energy efficiency of the building envelope.


Buildings that leak expensively generated HVAC heated or cooled air year-around need to be a focus of far greater attention, given that heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems account for up to 50% of a commercial building's energy use and dominate peak electricity demand.


Capital and maintenance costs for these systems also comprise a high portion of overall building costs, says the Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy and Water.


It notes how upgrades and advances to electrically powered HVAC systems can reduce energy demands and therefore emissions, as well as active solar thermal systems, computerised control of HVAC systems and even a “night purge” that reduces the need for mechanical cooling with cooler night air using natural ventilation.


It also notes methods to reduce demand on HVAC services including improved building insulation, high-performance window glazing, external window shading, colour and reflectivity of external materials, and cool, green roofs.


Many such innovations can be applied across the commercial building sector, including categories such as offices, warehouses, transport buildings, retail and wholesale trade buildings, factories, entertainment, and recreations buildings, short- term accommodation buildings, agricultural buildings, educational buildings, religion buildings, and age care facilities.


What is the role of building envelopes in clean energy transitions?


Such innovations recognise that high-performing envelopes (the parts of a building that separate the indoors from the outdoors, including exterior walls, foundations, roof, windows, doors etc.) are the most effective way to reduce the thermal needs of buildings. Compared to other solutions, the selection of envelope structure and materials is particularly important given the long lifetime of buildings and the cost of construction.


Such innovations go some of the way – but not all of the way – to recognising the importance of tighter building envelopes that don’t leak expensively cooled or heated air.


The building envelope, as architects and specifiers appreciate, extends across all the building components that separate the indoors from the outdoors. Building envelopes include the exterior walls, foundations, roof, windows and doors.


Doors are my particular interest, naturally enough, as the head of the Australasian operation of one of the world’s leading producers of energy-saving architectural revolving doors, the royal Boon Edam Group, with operations in 27 countries.


Such doors offer a “tighter” seal of a building, compared with Australia’s hundreds and thousands of sliding and hinged doors in building entrance locations where they constantly leak expensively warmed or cooled HVAC air 24/7, or admit into the building outside hot or cold air to place greater loads on a buildings’ HVAC system.


The ‘always open, always closed’ principle of a revolving door ensures the conditioned inside air and the unconditioned outside air remain separated, preventing drafts, dust and noise coming into the building.


As less energy is required to maintain the conditioned climate inside the building, revolving doors help reduce the carbon footprint of a building and save both energy and cost – key assets in today’s building environment.


How do you measure this?


A landmark study in 2006 by a team of graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted an analysis of door use in one building on campus, where they found the swinging door involved allowed as much as eight times more air to pass through the building than the revolving door with which it was compared.


This validation was taken a major step further recently by Boon Edam by software developed in partnership with one of the world’s leading technical universities.


Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) – ranked in the top 10 engineering and technology best universities in the world by the globally respected QS rankings – partnered with 150-year-old architectural global revolving door leader Boon Edam to give architectural, building and facility management companies a scientifically validated yardstick to measure the savings of their energy-saving doors.


Now available throughout Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, a first theoretical use of the software was applied to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane building models.


It shows the payback period for installing a revolving door, instead of a less energy-efficient sliding door, is shrinking rapidly as energy prices accelerate quickly. At current energy prices – which are due to rise again this year – Melbourne has the quickest payback time of four years, with Brisbane next at 4.9 years and Sydney at 5.7 years and shrinking.


Naturally, savings will vary with real-world applications developed in partnership with architects, builders, managers, and specifiers, who can make their own science-based ROI comparisons that consider the comfort and sustainability objectives of the spaces they create.


And in no way am I suggesting that revolving doors are a total building solution or that they are superior to other door types in every installation. In fact, we do many installations where they are effectively combined with sliding, hinged doors, and layered security speed gate solutions where these are the most effective people movement solution in particular locations.


The question of energy conservation and “tight” building envelopes is far more complex than a single solution can offer. But I do say that the total building envelope, including doors, needs to be considered in the context of the policies and standards that may flow from Australia’s Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings to deliver cost-effective energy efficiency improvements to the bult environment, including:


  • Lower energy bills
  • Contribute to energy security and affordability
  • Reduce carbon emissions
  • Improve people’s comfort and health
  • Reduce wastage for the wider economy
  • Assist in lowering peak demand.


Why does the world need better building envelope energy standards?


The International Energy Agency recently noted that in 2022 that more than 110 countries lacked mandatory building energy codes or standards, meaning that over 2.4 billion square meters of floor space were built without meeting any energy-related performance requirements.


Australia and New Zealand do have energy efficiency frameworks in place, and are consistently working to improve far sighted measures such as National Energy Productivity Plan. 


Such vision is important, because to be in step with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, all countries need to establish zero-carbon-ready building energy codes for residential and non-residential buildings by 2030 at the latest, says the IEA. Being in step also requires 20% of existing building floor area to be renovated to this level by 2030.


Australasia’s built environment energy efficiency and clean buildings policies continue to expand, but gaps remain, which architects, builders, specifiers, owners, and managers are working to fill.


My view is that building entrances are one such gap – an Achilles heel, which is not currently on the radar current policies, regulations or NABERS ratings – even though it seems inherently obvious that energy savings should start at a building’s front door and major points of interface with the outside world.


Moving towards 2030, perhaps it is time for this to change – to ask the question, can we afford to ignore a scientifically validated individual solution to energy savings within the building envelope among the broad stream of innovations required for the future?


* Michael Fisher is Managing Director of Boon Edam Australia, which is part of the privately owned international Royal Boon Edam group, which provides architectural revolving door and layered security solutions to some of the world’s largest companies, Fortune 500 companies, and companies in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea including financial, data and telecommunications, Federal and State Government, hospitality, health and age care, logistics, retail, and distribution facilities.

About us:

With work environments becoming increasingly global and dynamic, smart, safe entry has become the centre of activity in and around many buildings. Royal Boon Edam is a global market leader in reliable entry solutions. Headquartered in the Netherlands, with 140 years of experience in engineering quality, we have gained extensive expertise in managing the transit of people through office buildings, airports, healthcare facilities, hotels and many other types of buildings. We are focussed on providing an optimal, sustainable experience for our clients and their clients. By working together with you, our client, we help determine the exact requirements for the entry point in and around your building.

Please take a look at our range of revolving doors, security doors & portals, speed gates, tripod turnstiles, access gates and full height turnstiles to ensure the security of your entry and perimeter.

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(02) 9901 4306


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