Carbon Conservation & Energy Efficiency


Bruce Rowse & Team

Greenwashing and carbon accounting standards

November 3rd, 2010

I’ve been invited to comment on a recent article by Hunter Richards of Software Advice on greenwash. The article calls for an improvement to environmental accounting infrastructure through software, so that consumers can have greater confidence in claims of carbon neutrality.  Financial accounting methods, standards, auditing procedures and tools are well developed, but not so with carbon accounting. By way of example Richards highlights how a well known company that stated it was carbon neutral hadn’t accounted for its scope 3 emissions.

Scope 3 emission are “indirect” emissions that are embodied in products and services that a company may use. For example scope 3 emissions for a drinks manufacturer would be the carbon emission embodied in the aluminium the drinks company makes its cans out of. However the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the major global carbon accounting standard in use, hasn’t yet prescribed inclusion of scope 3 emissions in carbon accounting practices

Scope 3 emissions are challenging to measure, and ultimately can only be accurately tracked if every product is labelled with its embodied carbon emissions. Financial accounting practices rely on everything having a price. For example, the sale price of a car is comprised of the cost of everything that goes into making the car, down to the wheel nuts. The price of the wheel nuts in turn depends on the price of the steel used to make the nuts, and the amortised cost of the tooling used to make the nuts. The price of the steel depends on the ingredients in the steel, for example its molybdemum  content, amongst others. The price of molybdemum depends on the cost of energy and labour and amortised machinery used to mine it, process it and transport it. The amortised price of mining machinery depends on many factors as well. Ultimately there are probably well over a million prices that come together to make up the price of a car. In the same way complete carbon accounting also relies on every product or service having emissions associated with it accounted for.

This is complex to do. Daniel Goleman’s book Ecological Intelligence gives the example of glass, which typically has over one hundred ingredients in it in addition to sand. To provide thorough scope 3 carbon accounting requires being able to identify the emissions arising from each ingredient. Thorough scope 3 accounting for something like a computer or a mobile phone is thus very hard to do if the embodied emissions of each constituent part is not known. In the absences of mandated carbon labelling for all products and services, voluntary carbon reporting of scope 3 emissions is very challenging.

This is where emissions databases, and associated software, are useful. “Generic” emission factors could be developed for a particular type and size of product or service, in the absence of actual numbers, and applied when estimating scope 3 emissions. Global sharing of this information via on-line databases could make scope 3 carbon accounting much easier. However generic emission factors will only ever be rough approximations. Ultimately if accuracy is the aim everything in the economy needs to be labelled with its carbon emissions.

Standards, auditing standards, certification schemes and clear rules are needed for accurate carbon accounting. In the absence of complete carbon labelling of everything there needs to be transparency around methodologies and recognition that scope 3 carbon accounts will at best be estimates with a long list of assumptions behind them.

Bookmark and Share
1 Comment »

The Victorian Climate Change White Paper Implementation Plan

October 28th, 2010

The Victorian State Government’s Climate Change White Paper – Implementation Plan, shows determination to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the aim of lowering emissions by 20% compared with 2000 levels, whether or not there is global agreement on greenhouse gas abatement targets.  Around the world other states and countries have also set abatement targets. California has set a target of returning to 1990 emissions by 2020. And the UK aims to reduce emissions by 34% relative to 1990 levels.

In the White Paper 10 action areas for achieving this target are mapped out, which are:

  1. Climate change legislation to cut greenhouse pollution by 20% – The Climate Change Act, which passed state parliament in September .
  2. Moving towards a cleaner energy mix. This includes the prohibition of the construction of brown coal power stations, and also a commitment for emissions from existing brown coal powered stations to be reduced.
  3. Investment in renewable and clean energy in Australia. It has the vision of making Australia the “solar state” with 5% of our power to come from solar energy by 2020, and of bringing in a large scale solar feed in tariff. In 2010 93% of Victoria’s power comes from brown coal, by 2020 the aim is that this will be reduced to 60%, with the rest coming from wind (20%), natural gas (15%) and solar (5%).
  4. Support cleaner and more efficient homes. This will be achieved via expansion of the VEET (Victorian Energy Efficiency Taskforce) scheme and by requiring all homes to be 5 star by 2020.
  5. Positioning Victoria to be a global clean tech leader by 2015. This sees leadership in the area of carbon finance and in helping business reduce its carbon emissions. It doesn’t have any particular focus on a specific area (eg energy efficient buildings in a temperate climate). It sees skills developing in the areas of low energy homes
  6. Creating new opportunities in agriculture, food and forestry, with a focus on carbon offsets, lower carbon agricultural practices and soil carbon sequestration. A Victorian carbon exchange will be developed whereby these offsets can be voluntarily purchased.
  7. Delivering innovative transport solutions. This has a focus towards moving the transport of people and freight from motor vehicles to public transport and rail, and supporting vehicle technology with lower emissions.
  8. Greening government. This has a focus on increasing greenpower purchases, reducing energy use in buildings through an energy performance contract model and installing cogeneration systems in hospitals. It also provides support to local government
  9. Helping Victorians adapt to climate change, particularly in adapting to the effects of heat, floods and drought, and also in researching and understanding better the long term impacts of climate change, in particular along the coastline.
  10. Strengthening “Climate Communities.” This provides grants to community groups through the Climate Communities program. The AuSSI Vic Resource Smart Schools program will also be extended to all government schools.

Access the Whitepaper at

Bookmark and Share
No Comments »

Government funding for “disruptive and innovative” energy efficiency

October 21st, 2010

The US government has set up a special agency within the Department of Energy called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to promote “Disruptive and Innovative Approaches” to clean technology.  ARPA has the following objectives (from the ARPA website):

  1. To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract many of the U.S.’s best and brightest minds—those of experienced scientists and engineers, and, especially, those of students and young researchers, including persons in the entrepreneurial world;
  2. To focus on creative “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation;
  3. To utilize an ARPA-like organization that is flat, nimble, and sparse, capable of sustaining for long periods of time those projects whose promise remains real, while phasing out programs that do not prove to be as promising as anticipated; and
  4. To create a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development/industrial innovation.

ARPA is currently supporting R&D in the following areas:

  • Better batteries
  • Technologies the reduce carbon emissions in coal powered power stations
  • Grid scale energy storage
  • Material advances in magnetic, high voltage switching and charge storage.
  • Electrofuels – microorganisms to harness energy and convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels
  • Energy efficient building cooling technologies

This is an exciting program, and I particularly like the focus on breakthrough technologies. For example one of the energy efficiency cooling technology projects ARPA is supporting is thermoelastic cooling. This is a space cooling system that could have a a COP (coefficient of performance) up to 175% better than current vapour compression refrigerant systems.

It would be great to have a program similar to ARPA here in Australia.

Bookmark and Share
No Comments »

Wanted – A Leader To Develop Australia’s First Retrofitted Zero Net Energy Building

October 19th, 2010

A zero net energy building is one that produces as much energy as it uses. Yet, to my knowledge, there is not one commercial building in Australia that has been converted to zero net energy use. Its challenging, but not impossible. I’m looking for someone who wants to take up the challenge with us and demonstrate leadership in what can be done with existing buildings.

The imperative for buildings with zero net carbon emissions exists in climate change. It is not practical to tear down all our existing buildings and replace them with new zero net energy buildings. Additionally, the embodied carbon in new buildings is high. There is a strong rationale for taking existing buildings and turning them into buildings that have zero net carbon emissions in their operation. Yet, while I believe this is achievable in many climates (such as Melbourne) with current technology, we are not yet doing it. So I’m looking for someone who wants to demonstrate leadership and start blazing the trail for other building owners to follow.

Globally there is growing support for Zero Net Energy Buildings, and a number of such buildings already exist. The Department of Energy in the US launched it Zero-Net Energy Commercial Building Initiative two years ago in August 2008. It aims to have such buildings marketable by 2025. It  hosts a database ( that features eight buildings that have already achieved this status, ranging in size from 1,530 to 13,600 square meters. One of these is the IDeAs Z Squared Design Facility, a 1960 two storey office in San Jose California that was transformed into a zero net energy building in 2007.

Another example is the Zero Energy Office in Malaysia, built in 2008 and owned by PMT. This building achieves zero net energy in a challenging climate. Singapore also has a 4,500 m2 zero energy building, which was a retrofit, at an academic campus.

We have helped several of our clients achieve energy savings of 50% or close to 50%. I’m itching for the opportunity to go all the way and get a year round 100% reduction in energy imported from the grid, whilst delivering a workplace that is comfortable and healthy. This is extremely challenging, as energy use needs to be reduced to around 30kWh/m2/year for a single storey building – and even less than this for multi-storey – and then the roof covered with solar panels to generate all the energy the building uses year round. But I’m confident it can be achieved. In our existing leased premises we are using just over 30 kWh/m2/year. I know it’s possible to get energy use this low on the top storey of a building (which we are) or in a single storey building. A relatively narrow multi storey building, would also be suitable, but even more challenging.

And the economics? I think that zero net energy use could be achieved at little extra cost with an existing building that was in poor condition and due for a major refurbishment, including a complete changeover of the existing HVAC system.  It won’t be cheap, as zero net energy in Melbourne means a building that is very well insulated and sealed, has a good amount of thermal mass, and has good control over how the sun gets into the building. But if the building is in a bad state anyway, a fair bit of money will need to be spent in any case. The aim would be that anything extra spent on the refurbishment to achieve zero net energy would pay for itself in less than ten years in the energy savings.

Prerequisites are:

  • Single storey, or reasonably narrow multi-storey building no more than 4 storeys high.
  • Building must be a commercial building – for example, an office, library, etc – cannot be residential or industrial.
  • At least 1,000m2, but preferably in the range of 2,000 to 5,000m2 in area.
  • Building must be structurally sound.
  • Owner who:
    • Wants to have the first, or one of the first, existing commercial buildings in Australia to be retrofitted for zero net energy,
    • Is willing to really engage actively in the process,
    • Wants to stand up, be seen as a leader, and promote the concept of zero net energy building refurbishments.
    • Is ready to start now.

Please get in touch with me if you own such a building and are interested, or know of someone who is, or, if you are an investor and are willing to buy an existing building and turn it into a showcase.

Bruce Rowse

Bookmark and Share
No Comments »

A revolution in energy efficient commuting – 20 km/hr for just 35 watts!

October 15th, 2010
shweeb monorail bicycle

shweeb monorail bicycle

Shweeb, a NZ company, has come up with a fantastic low energy commuting concept that could transform our city scapes. Its based on a monorail concept under which an enclosed recumbent bicycle operates. The aerodynamic fairing reduces wind resistance, and as the rollers are steel on steel (a bit lot a railway) rolling resistance is very low. Its absolutely brilliant!

Check out the shweeb website:

If you are a cyclist  you’ll really appreciate the following elements of the shweeb concept:

  • Its more efficient than a bicycle. Being able to travel at 20 km/hr whilst only producing 35 watts of power is very efficient.
  • Its comfortable (recumbent’s are much more comfortable that normal bikes)
  • You don’t get a sweaty back when carrying a back pack
  • You stay dry
  • You are out of traffic

Will the shweeb concept take off? Whilst the advantages are considerable, it does require a significant investment in infrastructure. As the shweeb network requires staffing, there will also be ongoing operational costs. Its best initial application is for high density areas with lots of commuters travelling the same route every day and poor existing public transport.

If you are in a government (local, state or federal), in a high density area with a lot of commuters and poor public transport consider the shweeb concept!

Bookmark and Share
No Comments »