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Commercial Building Disclosure Program: Hotels and tenants in, shopping centres and data centres out

data center
Photo: Daoducquan

Hotels and office tenancies have got the green light for mandatory energy performance disclosure by independent reviewers of the Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) Program.

The recommendations haven’t extended to shopping centres, however, and now most data centres appear to be dodging mandatory disclosure too.

The CBD program ­– which requires information on a building’s energy performance to be disclosed when larger office spaces are sold or leased – focuses on the base building energy use, allowing tenant energy use on lighting and computers to go unchecked despite making up about half of the total building consumption.

The report, which investigates the expansion of the program into other high energy-using classes, recommends expanding mandatory disclosure requirements to office tenancies – as long as it’s easy for tenancy assessments to happen at the same time as owner assessments to keep down the cost of compliance.

To make the use of the co-assessment system – NABERS Co-assess – as streamlined as possible, buildings would need to be rated every year or every second year, rather than at the time of sale or lease.

Building owners and managers (or the assessor acting on their behalf) would also need direct access to tenant metering data to complete the rating through the co-assess tool, which will require legislative changes in some states and territories.

It suggests trialling the co-assess tool first in a state where existing legislation allows it.

The draft independent review documents on the CBD Program have been prepared by the Centre for International Economics for the Department of Environment and Energy, and are now open for public consultation.

Hotels also serve to benefit from mandatory disclosure

Hotels have got the go ahead for mandatory disclosure, subject to a few conditions. The report calls for hotel ratings every two years, and a review of the benchmarks in the NABERS energy tool to provide “fair comparison” across hotels.

Big hotels with more than 100 rooms should be targeted first, with smaller hotels to be considered pending its success.

They also want to make sure no one gets the energy ratings confused with hotel quality ratings.

Data centres escape mandatory disclosure but perhaps not forever

Despite consuming around 3 per cent of the world’s energy, most data centres are likely off the hook for mandatory disclosure this time round.

The report said that there’s not enough evidence to warrant expansion of the CBD Program to cover data centres, but recommends getting government data centres assessed to see how it plays out.

A few reasons are provided for not recommending the expansion of the program to all data centres. Firstly, the sector is “harder to define than other types of commercial buildings and the market is constantly evolving”.

It also found that mandatory disclosure is unlikely to drive significant improvements in energy efficiency for existing colocation data centres, which rent out date storage to external customers.

This is because colocation data centres must closely manage energy costs to stay competitive, according to the report.

“As such, there is much less likely to be poorly performing colocation data centres.”

The reviewers point out that the reason mandatory disclosure was so successful for office buildings was because it caught poorly performing office buildings.

It also found “little evidence of a systematic improvement in energy performance over time among the small number of data centres that voluntarily rate.”

It’s also not that easy to improve the energy efficiency of existing data centres by replacing cooling systems, the report states.

Not so much is known about the performance of private data centres, and some stakeholders suggested that many of these data centres perform poorly, particularly those owned by the government.

As such, the report recommended Commonwealth and state governments obtaining NABERS ratings on their own data centres.

This would help identify practical challenges associated with rating existing data centres. Based on these findings, the government could then reconsider expanding mandatory disclosure requirements to other data centres.

Bob Sharon, founder and chief innovation officer of Blue IoT, told The Fifth Estate that a number of government data centres have been rated for some time, such as the NSW government’s data centre in Silverwater.

Mr Sharon, who has done a number of NABERS assessments for data centres, also said that uptime – the centre’s ability to run 24/7 – is always the number one concern for customers looking for somewhere to store their data, with energy efficiency well down the list of priorities.

Customers will certainly prefer low energy colocation data centres but it’s unlikely to drive all data centre operators to prioritise energy efficiency.

“If you put in mandatory NABERS ratings, you let the tenants see, and then people make more informed decisions about where they invest and collocate.”

Mr Sharon said it’s indeed expensive to replace the cooling system in a data centre at the end of its life. But because energy is such a major cost for data centres, infrastructure upgrades that increase efficiency usually have a good business case and quick payback times, maybe four or five years.

There are operators like Fujitsu that have rated all its data centres, but Mr Sharon said it’s still not common to get a NABERS rating for data centres in Australia.

But with a carbon footprint equal to the size of the aviation industry, Mr Sharon said it would be responsible for data centres to have mandatory disclosure.

“You need something to drive behaviour.”

Shopping centres still a no-go-zone 

The reviewers had recommended against expanding the mandatory disclosure program to shopping centres the last time The Fifth Estate checked in with the review in June.

Core to the argument is that shopping centres claim to already know what and how energy is being consumed in their buildings – with almost half the centres above 15 000 m2 using NABERS energy ratings voluntarily – and to be passing this information onto their tenants.

Because tenants already know their energy costs, they apparently have no need for comparative energy efficiency information. The report also said the information would not influence shopper behaviour.

Another industry source told The Fifth Estate said it was difficult to understand why mandatory disclosure is such a problem if half of the major shopping centres already have voluntary NABERS ratings.

The source was also not convinced customers would not be influenced by this information.

In fact, the evidence indicated the contrary, with “so much information that we see around the community, including the broader community response to climate change, and the expectation of so many community members that there will be action taken to improve energy efficiency in the built environment.”

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