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Measuring up in Energy Efficiency: Where does Australia stand?

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently published its 2018 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. The annual report, now in its fourth year has widened from initially covering the world’s 12 largest economies now to the world’s top 25 energy consuming nations. Australia ranked 18th this year, down from number 6 in 2014.

Although Australia’s ranking might have come as a shock to some, for those involved in the business of energy efficiency, it’s no surprise.

In their own words, this scorecard aims to `provide more than a basic comparison of energy use and policies’. While the scorecard might lack subtlety, it does highlight some clear areas which Australia (especially after the recent collapse of the NEG) should take notice of.

  • Size of Energy Service Companies (ESCO) market – Australia took 19th place with spending less than 0.01% of GDP in 2018. France, China, Taiwan and Germany took the lead with spending between 0.15% and 0.37% (France).
  • Spending on business energy efficiency Research and Development– Australia came out 11th with $0.87 per capita. The US, Japan and Germany having spent between $3.07 and $3.94. Spending on industrial R&D was assessed because of its close relationship with efficiency and in this Australia did rank 8th at 5.78% of Industrial GDP.
  • Spending on energy efficiency by government and utilities was $6.12 per capita for Australia (ranking 13th) vs. $31.30 for Germany (ranking 1st). However the quoted $530,000 in annual government spending Australian requires some further explanation.

Commercial buildings:

Australia did rank 8th in commercial buildings energy intensity, scoring 2.5 of 3 points. This result is in line with data from OEH which puts the average NABERS office base building rating in 2017 at 4.35 stars, where 4.0 stars represents above average performance.

Australia lost points in the area of mandatory building ratings – although we have the Mandatory Disclosure scheme, it currently only covers commercial office buildings.

While Australia did lose out in the policy and spending game, we do punch above our weight in commercial building energy efficiency. Dr Paul Bannister was behind the technical development of many of the NABERS tools nationally as well as in New Zealand. During his time at Energy Action he was a key player in taking the formula of the successful performance based rating scheme internationally to the UK, South Africa, New Zealand and Dubai, while the US and others are seeking their own performance based standards. This belies the importance of and the gap internationally in having reliable means of measuring and comparing commercial building energy efficiency.


Anyone who has had long term involvement with energy efficiency within Australia is aware of the severe lack of interest by businesses to invest in energy efficiency. Based on our work with manufacturers across Australia, it’s apparent that even with energy price increases and instability over the last few years,  there remains to be a lasting (possibly healthy) scepticism around investing beyond mere system maintenance, lighting and other easy wins.

Australia scored 16th in energy per dollar of Industrial GDP, at 5,621 Joules per dollar compared with 1,277 joules per dollar for the UK. All considerations of Australia’s mix of metal production and other high inherent manufacturing processes aside, Energy Action’s experience is definitely that manufacturers can do between 15-40% better in energy efficiency.

This issue lies in the lack of available finance options for energy efficiency in manufacturing and the pathways for these options are, more often than not, off the beaten track. Australian Industry needs more finance for energy efficiency now and they need to on-board reliable incisive energy efficiency advice to make informed choices.

A key thing to note however is that the scorecard itself isn’t and shouldn’t be used as a tool to benchmark energy efficiency. Notably:

  • The ACEEE makes it clear that the researchers avoided adjusting for `physical or economic factors’ in the scoring unless deemed absolutely necessary.
  • Similarly, controlling for population densities and other important social factors was only able to be partially addressed in the study.
  • And understandably there were limits to the availability and consistency of data from subject countries.

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