It will come as no surprise to anyone in the sector that the building industry is a huge consumer of energy.

Around 20 per cent of all the power Australia generates is used in our buildings. Another 40 per cent is used by the transport sector, of which the building industry is a major user.

With the Australian Government currently planning our energy future via their Energy White Paper, it’s important that the voice of the building sector is heard. ASBEC, with member organisations incorporating 300,000 professionals from across the building sector, believes the government’s plan has some very good points. For example, a Renewable Energy Target is a great idea. But there are some significant things missing as well.

In the past, our energy generation has assumed a system of large power plants, often situated many miles away from our towns and cities. The power then has to be transported long distances from the place where it is generated to the point where it will be used.

These days, however, more and more Australian buildings are generating their own power using new technology like solar panels and wind turbines. This ‘distributed generation’ gives us new opportunities to make power more affordable and increase our energy productivity. But the White Paper doesn’t talk enough about the reforms our energy market needs to really let us get the benefit of the possibilities offered by distributed generation. ASBEC believes a commissioner for distributed energy could help smooth the way by tackling the regulatory barriers. Making it easier to connect distributed generation options to the grid and paying a fair rate for the power generated are also essential.

Improved energy productivity can bring benefits to everyone by easing cost of living pressures and increasing the productivity of our businesses. The White Paper does include an energy productivity target, which is an important step to get maximum value from each unit of power we generate. The next task, ASBEC believes, is for the government to work with industry to find the best way to achieve the target.

Technology alone is not going to meet our energy needs – we also need to know how to install and use it. A skilled workforce is crucial. With skills gaps varying by industry sector, it’s vital that the government works with the industry to spot the gaps and devise training and education schemes to address them.

Finally, there’s the constant elephant in the room: climate. According to the Australian Treasury, climate change is “the largest threat to the environment and represents one of the most significant challenges to economic sustainability.” It’s also a huge threat to our built environment, with buildings and infrastructure likely to experience huge effects from climate change.

Unfortunately, the Energy White Paper does not address climate change policy in any detail. Adopting strong distributed generation and energy productivity measures would help by reducing emissions.

As with all savings plans, starting early is key, and the earlier we adopt these policies the sooner we’ll reap the rewards, like cheaper energy costs and increased resilience in our built environment.