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The secrets of a low energy, high performance building

When the owners of Sydney’s landmark skyscraper, Chifley Tower, wanted to give it a performance boost a few years back, they looked first and foremost at how the building could become more energy efficient.

​So over the next three years, they implemented a green retrofitting program and installed a new central chilled water plant, introduced tenancy control zones to give occupants choice over air conditioning and changed light fittings to reduce energy consumption, among other things. The work led to a 55 percent drop in electricity consumption, and in June it picked up a Global Award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) awards for the performance improvements associated with the energy efficiency upgrade works.

Chifley Tower is not alone in its decision to cut back on the amount of energy it uses in its every day operations. Nowadays, energy efficiency has become a major priority in building management.

Real estate accounts for about 40 percent of global energy consumption so our sector has a key role to play in tackling climate change,” notes Colin Dyer, JLL’s CEO in the latest Global Sustainability Report.

By implementing new technology and continuously revising maintenance practices, companies can make a big difference across the board. For example, since 2012, energy efficient measures from JLL clients in the US have saved more than $47 million and stopped 278,000 metric tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. JLL has itself achieved a 6 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the same time period largely attributable to the buildings JLL chooses to occupy. And in the UK, JLL’s Energy Reduction Programme (ERP), has led to client savings of more than 29 million kWh, which equates to around $2.7 million while also cutting carbon emissions by 9,250 metric tons.

A new approach to lighting​

So how is this being achieved? A huge step-change has been in LED lighting. Lee Cleeton, Senior Consultant in JLL UK’s Upstream Sustainability Services team says that companies who have installed smart LED lighting systems in their buildings – mainly in corridors, lifts and stairwells -have seen up to a 90 percent reduction in energy use in these specific areas.

Understanding how buildings are being used by their occupants can also go a long way to creating a more energy friendly space. Chris Nunn, JLL’s Sustainability Director in Australia, says LED lights powered by a network cable (known as power over ethernet) are allowing for more sophisticated controls because data is then gathered from each light showing how it’s being used.

“Every light is responding in a much more dynamic way,” he says. “This means we can not only control the lights to optimize energy efficiency, but we can now gather space utilization data which is very powerful from a workplace strategy perspective.”

Understanding the human impact

The way in which a building is run is as important as implementing energy efficient measures. As Cleeton says: “The area that can be overlooked is people: after all, you can have a very energy efficient building that is badly operated.” The opposite is also true in that an older building that is well maintained can be very energy efficient.

The key areas of energy waste arise from running the building services in their entirety for a few staff members working outside normal hours, through to employees having a poor understanding of how the heating and lighting is controlled.

Buildings also need to have a strong planned maintenance program rather than just a solely reactive one, as Cleeton explains. “A classic result of reactive maintenance, which leads to wasted energy, is where you have ‘optimization’ of the heating system. It may have originally been set to turn the boiler on at 7 am to have the building ready for people coming in at 9 am but over time the boiler starts to get fed incorrect information from sensors and if it’s not monitored, you can end up having a boiler switching itself on many hours before it is really required or in the worst case on a Sunday to get the building to the required temperature ready for a Monday morning.”

A way to mitigate these issues is to ensure systems are adjusted seasonally, which Nunn says can produce energy savings of between 20 to 30 percent. Upgrades of building facades can also improve air tightness, insulation and external shading, which Nunn says is becoming increasingly easier to implement: “We now have the capability to retrofit the facade of a building and create a new high performance envelope. This creates a new look and feel, while also dramatically improving a building’s efficiency without disrupting tenants.”

Sustainability moves up the agenda

Sustainability measures are now firmly on the radar for most building managers. “In many cases the focus can now shift to making the fabric of a building more efficient, then upgrading the services – sized to the new reduced loads, and finally renewables should be added where appropriate,” says Nunn.

Rapidly evolving technology is helping to drive change, with innovations like transparent, thin film solar panels as windows and atria, and photo-chromic glass which can tint to reduce solar gains like a pair of transition sunglasses.

“We’re starting to see that tipping point for lighting and control systems, which are delivering good savings, and we’ve seen a real affordability shift in terms of photovoltaics,” Nunn says. “The question is: when is the right time for building managers to jump in and adopt this technology?”

While much of the focus is currently on individual buildings, the real change will happen when communities work together. Matthew Tippett, National Director of the Upstream Sustainability Services team at JLL, says: “It needs to come from community level infrastructure, such as where buildings are connected together on a combined heating and cooling system, or from the creation of citywide connected green spaces.”

For now, it’s largely just in the ideas stage but in future years, such green districts may well come to feature prominently in our cities, where low energy buildings are supplied with clean energy from district power plants, and people can enjoy the high quality public realm spaces in between this new generation of high performance buildings.

This article originally appeared on Real Views, JLL's news site that features stories exploring the world of real estate and its impact on the wider business world. Visit the Real Views site to subscribe for our weekly email of top stories, delivered direct to your inbox.