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NABERS set for starring role in UK

According to industry legend, when the NABERS initiative was first released as a system for measuring and comparing the environmental performance of Australian buildings and tenancies, it had a less memorable name. The final acronym was coined as a cheeky (and catchier) reference to the popular soap opera.

Since then, the initiative has brought about huge improvements in operating efficiency in Australia’s built environment. According to NABERS five-year plan released earlier this year, users have saved $400 million in energy bills since 2010, and 826,578 tonnes of COemissions have been prevented.

And now, after many years of work, it appears that the system may follow the example of its namesake and find success overseas. NABERS has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Better Building Partnership to apply the system in the UK.

We asked NABERS developer Dr Paul Bannister, F.AIRAH, about the latest developments.

The work to take NABERS to the UK has been happening for some time. How important is this latest step?

The Design for Performance (DfP) project has been working for the past three years to assess the feasibility of introducing a “performance in use” scheme to the UK for new office buildings. This has drawn heavily on the experience of NABERS.

The MOU formalises the relationship between the BBP and NABERS and enables the BBP to have direct access to NABERS resources and IP to facilitate the next stage of the project – the development of the scheme infrastructure including the rating methodology, project agreements, rules, guidance and training materials.

This is a very important step as it means that many of the lessons learnt the hard way in Australia can be incorporated into the UK materials from day one.

Is there an appetite within UK industry for a system like NABERS?

Evidence gathered by the BBP in the UK points to gap between design intent and actual building performance in use. This is coupled with a “design for compliance” regulatory regime, which means that UK offices are not performing at their true potential.

BBP members and other UK stakeholders have long identified the need for greater transparency and accountability for building energy performance, but one that reflects the important “split” between owner/landlord and tenant/occupier energy consumption. Coupled with increasing pressure from investors and occupiers in the UK, the appetite for such a scheme is clearly visible in the marketplace.

I’ve been in a lot of meetings about this over the past few years and the interest has built from an initial level of reserved interest, to today, when I’d say there is a degree of impatience as to when it’s all going to happen.

How would DfP fit in with existing ratings systems popular in the UK, such as BREEAM?

In the same way that NABERS and Green Star are complementary in Australia, BREEAM and the DfP can project work together. Indeed, the DfP project has already been working with BRE and a verification stage was introduced into the latest BREEAM Construction Update – the DfP scheme would provide one route to verification for those assets covered by the scheme.

How will you be involved in this next part of the process?

I’m working for DeltaQ who is contracted to Verco (the UK Technical Lead for the project) to provide specific input into the development of the scheme infrastructure, starting with the rating scale and the project agreement (the equivalent of NABERS Commitment Agreement Protocol).

What are you hoping to achieve overall with this project?

The UK industry is different to the Australian industry in many respects, but it does also remind me of the Australian industry 20 years ago. My overall goal therefore is to achieve the same sorts of dramatic improvements in operational energy efficiency in the UK that we have achieved with NABERS in Australia – but faster and with the benefit of hindsight on many of the potential stumbling blocks that we have already surmounted.

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