The energy to change
DEMAND-SIDE participation is a phrase more familiar to managers of factories than office towers, but that may soon change if electricity-sector reforms take hold.
Smelters and other big industrial power users routinely curb output during summer peaks to prevent blackouts as residents and offices crank up airconditioners.
They enjoy lower electricity prices in return for the disruption. At the same time, rising power and gas prices, topped up with a carbon tax since July, are prompting property investors, managers and tenants to pay more attention to energy bills.
Like their industrial counterparts, they may soon get varying electricity tariffs that will give them an added incentive to understand how their office space's heating, ventilation and airconditioning can be maximised.
The federal government has been prodding the states to phase in so-called time-of-use pricing as a means of moderating peak demand, a move endorsed by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AMEC), among others.
Consumers large and small should be given the rules and tools so they, too, can be rewarded for moderating demand at peak times, the AMEC said. In the process, potentially billions of dollars in electricity network investments required to power just a few dozen hours a year could be avoided.
For the Sydney-based BuildingIQ, which sells energy-optimising technology developed by the CSIRO to companies such as Lend Lease, AMP, Investa and Stockland, the shift would echo a growing trend in the US, its other main market.
''We're a little ahead of the market,'' said Mike Zimmerman, BuildingIQ's chief executive. ''We're talking about what's coming to Australia … In cities, the buildings are the drivers of the peak loads.''
A building itself can act as a form of energy storage. Mr Zimmerman said his company's software was designed to alter energy use using energy prices and weather forecasts, with an adaptive understanding of the structure's energy performance.
That could mean cooling a building more than usual with low-cost overnight power and letting office temperatures rise higher, with little effect on its occupants' comfort.
''We can reduce the peak load by 10 to 20 per cent for airconditioning'' for as long as three hours ''without impacting comfort'', he said. The drop was as much as 30 per cent for the Perth Town Hall.
BuildingIQ continues to work with CSIRO, including extending the service's range.
''It's one thing to take peak load down in one building on a block,'' Mr Zimmerman said. ''What if you can actually bring all the buildings down, not just 100 kilowatts, but a megawatt or 10 megawatts, and bring all that off the grid?''
The company has raised about $7 million, including government support, and is about to close a second round of funding of $8 million to $10 million from overseas investors, mostly to fund US expansion. BuildingIQ is also in talks with ''five other big property trusts'' locally, among other potential clients, Mr Zimmerman said.