Commercial buildings’ refers to non-residential facilities such as such as shops, restaurants, offices, industrial premises, hotels, schools and hospitals. The commercial building sector is responsible for around 25% of overall electricity use and 10% of total carbon emissions in Australia.
Commercial building owners and tenants are realising that energy efficiency is a cost-effective way to:
- lower energy bills
- reduce operating costs
- reduce carbon emissions
- increase property value
- attract higher rental returns.
The Australian Government is working with state and territory governments to help building owners and tenants improve their energy use, reduce emissions and invest in better buildings and equipment.
International policies to reduce energy use in existing buildings
Many countries are exploring potential new or expanded policies to improve existing building energy performance in response to the challenge of limiting climate change.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) Energy in Buildings and Communities (EBC) Technology Collaboration Programme Building Energy Codes Working Group (BECWG) commissioned a review of building energy codes and other mandatory regulatory instruments applied to existing buildings in member economies.
This review synthesizes the experience to date with two major types of policies: building energy codes and building energy performance standards.
Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings – commercial initiatives
The Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings (the Trajectory) 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 (NEPP).
The Trajectory was developed in close consultation with stakeholders to outline policies that deliver cost-effective energy efficiency improvements to homes and businesses and reduces emissions.
See the related report: Financial Incentives to energy efficiency upgrades to commercial buildings (PDF 3.1 MB)
National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS)
NABERS is a voluntary rating system with design standards to measure a commercial building’s energy efficiency. The system rates buildings from 0 to 6 stars, with 6 representing exceptional greenhouse performance and resource efficiency.
The NABERS website shows how to self-assess buildings for free or find a professional to conduct an accredited rating.
NABERS is run by the NSW Government on behalf of the Australian Government and state and territory governments.
Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD)
CBD is a national program which requires sellers and lessors of commercial office spaces over 1000m² to provide energy efficiency information to prospective buyers and tenants. The program is creating a more informed property market, and encouraging more energy efficient buildings and reduced emissions. The CBD program uses NABERS as its rating system.
For a brief overview of the program, see the CBD program explained video.
2019 CBD review
The government undertook a 2019 review of the CBD program to assess its effectiveness. It also considered the case to expand the program to other high energy-using buildings such as shopping centres, data centres, hotels and office tenancies.
The review found the CBD program has been effective in promoting energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction. It found the program made a significant contribution to average energy use for offices declining from over 550 MJ/m2 to 400 MJ/m2 between 2011 and 2019.
As of 2019, the review estimated the CBD program:
- reduced energy consumption by a cumulative 3 PJ
- saved over $82.6 million in energy bills
- reduced carbon emissions by around 600,000 tonnes (equivalent to annual emissions of 40,000 households for a year).
Due to the impacts of COVID-19 on the Australian economy, the 2019 review has been placed on hold.
Office tenancies energy end use
Office building energy costs are often borne by two different groups: owners and tenants. While owners are typically responsible for the base building including foyers, lifts, HVAC, and bathrooms, tenants generally cover the lighting, IT and other ‘plug load’ or appliances in their tenanted space.
In the Determining office tenancies energy end use report, the department commissioned the Energy Efficiency Council (EEC) to analyse how much electricity and gas use is attributable to tenants in Australian office buildings based on a survey of CitySwitch signatories and data from the National Australian Built Environment Energy Rating System (NABERS).
The report looks at the main uses for energy and seeks to establish the energy savings opportunities available in office tenancies to 2030. The report’s objective is to facilitate the uptake of and investment in energy upgrades that offer the largest energy and emissions savings for tenancies.
National Construction Code (NCC)
The NCC sets standards for new buildings. It balances the building and construction sector’s needs with performance standards and minimum requirements for buildings to achieve safety and health, amenity and accessibility, and sustainability. State and territory governments have legislation that gives legal effect to the NCC.
Under the NEPP, Energy Ministers agreed to consider opportunities to increase minimum requirements in the NCC to achieve better energy efficiency outcomes for Australia’s buildings.
Section J of the NCC deals with energy efficiency provisions for commercial buildings, institutional buildings and apartment building common areas. These provisions were extensively revised in February 2019 and became non-voluntary from 1 May 2020 in most jurisdictions.
Important changes affecting commercial buildings were also included in the new NCC 2022 Energy Efficiency and Condensation management provisions. These provisions will become non-voluntary from 1 October 2023 and include:
- new performance requirements that require certain buildings to have features which facilitate the future installation of on-site renewables and electric vehicle charging (B1P1(2)) and J1P4 of Volume One).
- the NABERS Energy Verification Method expanded to Class 2 common areas, Class 3 buildings and Class 6 shopping centres (J1V1 of Volume One (2019: JV1)).
- new DTS provisions to facilitate the future installation of electric vehicle charging equipment in carparks associated with Class 2, 3, 5, 6, 7b, 8 or 9 buildings (J9D4 of Volume One).
- new DTS provisions to facilitate the future installation of solar photovoltaics and battery storage (B1D3(a) and J9D5 of Volume One). This excludes houses.
Development of new provisions for 2025 by the Australian Building Codes Board are currently underway, which will include increasing commercial building energy efficiency and moving towards zero energy and carbon ready buildings.
See the related report: Glazing for non-residential buildings under NCC2019
Survey of building modellers regarding use of onsite photovoltaics modelled on commercial buildings
A survey of expert building modellers was undertaken to understand how the industry utilises provision (b) under verification method JV3 in the National Construction Code (Volume 1).
The Use of renewable energy to trade-off energy efficiency requirements in Section J of the National Construction Code report captures industry insights on the uptake of renewable energy used to trade-off performance of façades and services for proposed new commercial buildings that seek to verify compliance against verification method JV3 of Section J (Energy Efficiency) under Volume 1 of the NCC.
The survey asked respondents to consider rooftop PV, Building Applied PV (BAPV) and Building Integrated PV (BIPV) in building simulation models and factors that contribute to decision-making on the use of PV on commercial buildings.
Achieving Low Energy Commercial Buildings in Australia
The Achieving Low Energy Commercial Buildings in Australia report (PDF 1.7 MB), prepared in 2018, informed the Energy Ministers’ Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings adopted in 2019.
The underlying commercial building modelling that informed the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings was updated in 2022, ahead of the development of NCC2025 Code provisions.
Glazing for non-residential buildings under NCC2019 – products, costs, and market insights
Better glazing specifications can be an effective strategy to improve overall building energy performance.
The Glazing for non-residential buildings under NCC2019 report identifies specifications, performance levels and prices typical of new non-residential construction. It provides a good snapshot of the industry as it operates, in line with requirements of the 2019 National Construction Code.
The report also captures industry data and insights into glazing and construction practices and trends in non-residential glazing in Australia.
Non-Habitable Buildings in the NCC
This report examines the potential benefits of including cool rooms (warehouses, walk-in cool rooms, freezers, and other refrigeration processes) and data centres (captive and collocated) in the National Construction Code 2019 (NCC).
Cool room and data centre energy usage estimates for 2017-2018 were 19,600 and 7,680 GWh/year respectively. Currently, data centre and cool room energy efficiency is unregulated. The only exception is refrigerated display/storage cabinets which are covered by the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standard (GEMS).
In other jurisdictions such as the EU and the US, cool rooms are regulated through the application of GEMS type standards and building codes.
See the Non-Habitable Buildings in the NCC report.
International review of energy efficiency in data centres
The International review of energy efficiency in data centres report presents a review of international policies, standards and issues relating to energy efficiency in data centres.
This review suggests possible policy approaches to balance the economic and strategic benefits of data centres with managing their energy use and environmental impact.
Commercial Buildings Baseline Study
The Australian Government in collaboration with state and territory governments has published the 2022 Commercial Buildings Baseline Study. This study aims to improve the understanding of commercial buildings in Australia and their energy use.
The CSIRO National Energy Analytics Research program (NEAR) also provides data and analysis on Australian commercial buildings.
Digital innovation opportunity for energy productivity in non-residential buildings
The CSIRO and DeltaQ have produced a report, Scoping the Digital Innovation Opportunity for Energy Productivity in Non-Residential Buildings. The report highlights the significant potential of digitalisation to create energy performance improvements while reducing emissions, improving affordability and delivering up to 2.7 times more benefit than initial costs.
Weather files for commercial building energy modelling
CSIRO has developed up-to-date weather data for use in building energy simulation software. The data can be used to simulate commercial building designs against expected weather conditions to test performance, including assessing the effects of a changing climate.
- Energy efficiency guide for building owners and tenants
- Energy efficiency guides for HVAC, lighting and data centres
- Energy efficiency skills and training
- A Guide to Best Practice Maintenance and Operation of HVAC Systems for Energy Efficiency
- Australian Building Codes Board
- Better Ways to Work – Improving HVAC performance through maintenance
- Building Code Calculator
- Climate Change – Impact on Building Design and Energy Final Report
- Commercial Building Learning Rates reports
- Green Building Council of Australia
- Leasing Standard Better Buildings Partnership
- Mid-tier Commercial Office Buildings Pathway Project Report (PDF 7 MB) Green Building Council of Australia