In this episode, host Umesh Bhutoria
teams up with David Clark
, Director at Positive Zero, an independent consultancy that helps the property sector transition to a fully sustainable future.
A leader in sustainable design with a particular focus on Zero Carbon strategies and solutions, David brings his vast experience to help you figure out where to start, what data, resources, and skill sets are needed, and how to actually get to the implementation stage of a retrofitting programme.
And...there's much more!
Tune in now to get in on the action and take the next step in your retrofitting journey.
Keep listening to the Forever Forward - FM, Operations, and Maintenance Podcast for exclusive conversations and insights from industry leaders and experts!
Hello everyone. Welcome back to yet another episode of the forever forward podcast. And today I have David with me. Hey David, good afternoon. How are you? I'm good. I'm good. You know, and David has a wealth of experience of, you know, once again, I was just going through his LinkedIn bio and actually that's when I realized when I seriously took a look that this man has a lot of experience on smart building, sustainability and environment and everything.
So it's really great for us to have him here. And we're going to talk about a topic today, which is, I wouldn't say, which is hot, but it's kind of relevant, but it's been around and something that David knows a thing or two about. We're going to talk about the, sort of a guide to retrofits from the perspective of moving from gas to electricity, which I suspect is very relevant for Australia and probably markets like the UK as well.
But I mean, maybe, you know, we'll dwell upon that as well. Dave is currently, you know, running his own consulting firm and probably in his own words, probably is doing the work of his life, something that he always wanted to do. And he has amazing experience leading up to what he's doing.
So David, I'll probably, you know, pass it over to you. maybe let you introduce yourself and talk about everything that you've done in the past to what you're doing right now. Hi, Umesh. Well, I want to try and cover everything that I've been involved in. That would be, I think, quite boring for the listeners, but, look, yeah, I've been a consulting engineer now for about 35 years.
I'm chartered in both structural engineering and building services, so a real multidisciplinary background, and I've worked in the UK, in Melbourne, and then for the last nine years I've been in Sydney, and I suppose for the past 20 years I've really specialised in sustainable
design of buildings and infrastructure, but always coming at it with a, with that engineering and technical mindset. I was the principal technical author of the first Green Star rating tool in Australia back in 2003. And I've been the chair of the Green Building Council's technical advisory group for the last.
Eight to nine years overseeing the sort of new suite of GreenStar tools. And there's a big focus there on how do we electrify buildings? How do we get gas out of buildings? And yeah, after 15 years as a partner in Kundal, I set up my own practice positive zero last year. So yeah, about one year is going well.
So I work with developers, architects, building owners, facility managers to deliver sustainable buildings, but I also work with the government and with the Green Building Council to set standards and right guidance for industry. So that's a bit of a snapshot of work on a lot of buildings of all shapes and sizes over the years.
How's the one year of entrepreneurship coming along, David? Sorry, what was that? I said one year of entrepreneurship. How's that coming along? You mentioned it's 1 year's going Well, it's been busy and very significant. Part of what I'm doing is on electrification, so the topic we're talking about, Today, so, yeah, writing guidance with the Green Building Council on new buildings and existing buildings and how do we electrify them, writing guidance for the Better Building Partnership on for facility managers and asset managers on how do you look at electrifying a Portfolio and working with the ACT government here in Canberra to look at how do you help, tier two building owners.
So not the top end of town, but the next level down. How do you help them electrify and get gas out of their buildings when they don't have it? You know, big sustainability teams in house dedicated to doing that. So particularly in Australia, there's a lot going on in the electrification space and, yeah, I've been involved in quite a bit of that.
Awesome. It seems like it's going great. So, that's how we dive into the conversation. So you spoke about, a lot of your work personally being around the movement from gas to electricity or electrification of buildings. break it down for us, like how easy or difficult it is to move away from gas when, and then your systems and infrastructures and mindset has been on the gas for so long.
Well, I think in new buildings, mindset is probably the only real barrier there. Yeah, New buildings, it's pretty easy to get gas out of buildings. You just don't put it in the first place. So just design your buildings, To be all electric, you know, domestic hot water is pretty straightforward, space heating, lots of technical alternatives there using heat pumps and variable refrigerant volume systems.
So there's lots of opportunities. Cooking is a harder one. Getting your food and beverage retailers to use electric cooking rather than gases. It's not a technical challenge. That's a mindset challenge. but you know, again there's a lot of work going on in that space. There's organizations like the global cook safe coalition that are providing sort of guidance on that.
So I think over the next five to 10 years. You'll find that cooking with electric and induction cooktops will be the norm and using gas will be seen as a thing of the past in the same way we used to cook on wood stoves in caves. gas cooktops are gonna be a fairly, archaic way of cooking at the moment.
You know, people like cooking on gas, but anyone that's moved to induction doesn't want to go back. Yeah, so that makes sense. I mean, and that's on the domestic front. But like, for example, when you talk about the auxiliary systems like hot water systems, as far as the large buildings are concerned, and heating is concerned, is that also a mindset barrier for people to change in the new buildings? Look, I suppose it's a habit, isn't it? People are used to designing things a certain way. So when you come to do your next building, you want to design it the way that you've always designed buildings. But if the client briefs there's no gas, then you design it without gas.
You design it accordingly. Yeah. You design it accordingly. Yeah. So, it's not that Difficult to design with heat pumps. And if you didn't have gas available at the building, you would design it without gas anyway. So, you know, I don't see there's real technical challenges for new buildings to be all electric.
Yeah, there's some specialist uses in some types of buildings where that might be more of a challenge But they're relatively small Uses it's only when you get into heavy industry but that's a different conversation Buildings and that's that sort of manufacturing processes. So all you're saying is that for the new building?
It's just a mindset barrier technically financially. You're not really looking at something that we can't cross. Is it very different for existing buildings? Yeah, look, existing buildings are a challenge because you've already got the infrastructure in there. You've invested in your gas boilers, your gas pipes.
If you've got a space heating system using gas, it's typically, or it's very often designed 80 degree, 60 degree, flow and returns. Certainly, in Australia, that's fairly Standard when you want to switch heat pumps, you are working on a smaller, lower temperature and a smaller temperature difference and therefore your pipes and your pumps and your coils may not have enough capacity.
So it's not just a case of taking the gas boilers out and putting in heat pumps. So it's a distribution that needs to be changed. And that's probably one of the biggest challenges at the same time, They've probably been overdesigned. buildings are, you know, when you're designing buildings, you often build in a bit of redundancy.
You know, if you put in two gas boilers, so you've got a 60% redundancy supply where we have heat pumps, they come in smaller modules, right? So instead of gas boilers, you might have five heat pumps. So, you know, you don't need to overdesign the heat pumps. If you look at what you're, you've got an existing building, so you know what your gas bills are.
If you've got thermal metering in there, you can, you know what your heat demand is, you can probably work that out from the gas bills as well. Right. And so you go, well, it was, let's say it was designed for a megawatt of heating. Is it actually really useful? A megawatt of heating, yeah. Do I need to take the gas boilers out and put heat pumps in for exactly the same capacity or because it's an existing building?
Should I just put heat pumps in to meet the demand and how can I reduce the demand in that building? You know, when is that peak heating occurring? You know, there are opportunities to reduce that, to save energy and to save the amount of heat pumps I need to put in. And then with all of that, can we then make the existing pipe work?
Work a bit harder. You might have to change the pumps. You might have to change the coils, but can you make the pipe work a little bit harder because it's already there rather than replacing it all. So what I'm hearing is obviously, I think one common thing for existing and new buildings is going back to the basics and the design once again, and just trying to take a look at it.
But obviously things are more difficult understandably because of the existing infrastructure that is there. But I heard the design a number of times. I'm just curious to ask this follow up question on this. A lot of owners then go back to design and designers and architects who are kind of, as far as the new building is concerned, or you say, no, it always comes back from the brief that the customer gives to the designers and say, this is what, like from the new build perspective.
From the new build, you know, some architects and engineers will challenge the client to say, why are we putting gas in the building? but most of the time people would design what is in the brief. So the starting point for a new building is I wouldn’t take, don't put gas in this building and then that makes it very easy for everybody.
And you're designing that from day one. I see it in Sydney, which is in New South Wales, in Australia, they're about to introduce some new regulations that come into effect in a couple of months. And for certain building types, which includes offices and hotels, when you put a development application in, you have to either say you're not using gas, but if you are using gas, you have to design the building so that you can take gas out within the next 10 years.
Okay, so you design the space and the ventilation and the electrical infrastructure as if you were. So that's like carbon offsets for 10 years worth of gas for doing so. So you're allowed to put gas in. The question is why on earth would you, because you're already putting the infrastructure because you're already putting the infrastructure, yes, exactly.
And you're good. And if legislation changes that says you've got to take gas out of the building in the future, all that gas equipment is still going to be Pretty new. I mean, yeah, got it. So I think in this case, the legislation might as well do the trick. Yeah, it's going to devalue your building as well, because if you want to sell your building and somebody knows that they're going to have to replace all this equipment with all electric, they're going to factor that into the cost of the building.
Now that's a brilliant point. I mean, So just moving on from there, like again, and especially you said that you interact a lot with the tier two sort of developers or like asset owners versus the tier ones. Now, how different is the conversation when it comes to moving from gas to electricity?
One of the points I think you mentioned is that obviously tier one has access to sustainability teams or that intellect capacity or engineering capacity. But we would love to know more. How different are the conversations? Well, actually, this is a bit of a challenge at the moment because I haven't done much work with the tier twos because the tier ones are just making this transition.
So two years ago, you would have difficult conversations about gas versus no gas. For tier one, there was still gas going into buildings and gas going into development. And over the last 18 months that has completely changed and it's just we don't put gas in our new buildings.
But that's at that sort of tier one. And that's partly driven by the larger developers having corporate ESG targets and committing to, we're going to be zero carbon by 2025 or 2030. And saying that you're going to be zero carbon, then putting gas into a building and then buying offsets does not cut it with anybody anymore.
So when there's an alternative, which is Eliminate the emissions rather than offset it. Offsetting is fraught with all sorts of issues. Credibility being one of the major ones. So that's what's happening there. The tier two are not necessarily got those corporate targets and commitments. so that's where I suppose legislation and policy and those sorts of drivers are needed to help push it.
Yeah. And this is something that I'm working with the ACT government in Canberra at the moment. They've recognized that the tier ones have got various sorts of policies and processes in place. But if you're going to try and electrify an entire city, which is what they want to do in Canberra by 2045, they want to get gas out of the buildings, then you've got to have conversations with small buildings.
You can't just limit yourself to tier one because that's not, obviously, they don't make the 100 percent of the city, which is true. Correct. So we're about to start in the next couple of months putting some guidance. together. so maybe in about six months time, I'll have a much better answer to your question about how they are responding?
But one of the big challenges is, you know, because they don't have big in-house teams doing this, they're relying on the advice from consultants and so on. And a lot of consultants are still not up to speed with this yet. So and that is a challenge in the industry, how do you upskill everybody so that instead of saying this?
You know, this can't be done. This is how it can be done. So if you're a client and you ask a consultant, you know, I want to electrify my building and they say it can't be done, I think you should turn the question back on to them and say, is it can't be done or you can't do it?
Got it. Quite a difference there. Right. No, you can't design it up. You know, that makes sense. But you know, that at least just take a note, make sense for me to come back to you for six months later and do another episode and just talk on that year to experience, but moving on, I mean, and just maybe taking a deeper conversation on how to, because as you mentioned it, the challenge and this is all.
Rest of the conversation is all assuming someone's made up their mind that they want to retrofit. Like in this episode or this discussion, we are not trying to make a case for the retrofit, right? So let's say if someone's decided, whether it's a tier two, tier one, you know, operator or investor that decided that really, that they want to move on.
From gas and, you know, move to electricity. So what we want to know is what kind of framework would they be looking at? I mean, and so one of the first questions is how and where do they reassess everything? And maybe this is largely from the built, you know, not the new built, but the existing built environment perspective.
Yeah, I mean, if you, it depends on you, like you're talking about in one building or a portfolio, I mean, the questions are the, pretty much the same, the first thing is gas used? You know, are we using gas in our building? You know, what is it used for? And how much gas Is being used in comparison to the overall building because from that information you can get a pretty good idea of the scale of the challenge.
And it sounds like a really easy question, but there's a lot of portfolios don't necessarily know what gas equipment there is in their buildings and gas might not be used by the landlord it might be used by the tenant, so it's not, it might not just be a case of saying, what are gas bills. Because some of the gas might be used by tenants, particularly in cooking and so on.
So, I suppose the very first step in any processes, understand where it's being used. And you can often find that from your drawings, obviously, your gas bills. And then go and have a wander around the building and work out where it is being used.
So, I mean, there are other things to be thinking about. It's an existing asset, so you've probably got an asset plan for it. When are you planning to do a refurb on it? So are you planning to do a refresh of the building? How old is it? So is the gas boiler coming to the end of its life in two or three years?
Well, that is probably the trigger to, if you've got say, two buildings, that's an interesting point. That spoiler is coming to the end of his life. Another one's got another five years or six years. You'll do the ones that are coming to the end of their life sooner than, yeah, makes sense. You can't do everything all at once.
True that. You know, we might need to do everything all at once, but we can't do that. We have to be realistic about what can be done and you want to pick the low hanging fruit And go after the easy stuff as quickly as you can. Yeah. So other things like leases, you know, when a major lease is coming up, that can be an opportunity to do the work.
In the building or a renewal of your lease if someone's you or the renewal of at least yeah And also, you know, you know electric vehicle charging if you're looking at Providing EV charging in your building For your tenants or your residents or whoever it is, you know, if you're looking at electrifying your building and you might have to upgrade some of your electrical capacity, you might not, but if you did, you want to look at all this together.
So if you're adding EV charging at the same time and you're adding solar panels on the roof, look at all of the work that you might be doing in one go. And make sure you design your electrical infrastructure for that. So you're not doing it piecemeal. You can stagger the work, but make sure you do your electrical work.
so you've set the building up for all the upgrades as you go forward, rather than doing the electrification and then coming back a year later and upgrading it again for the EV charging. And then a year later, upgrading it for something else. It'd be good to have a plan for the whole building, as part of the points that you said are pretty interesting and probably true is like, look for those trigger points.
And how soon or how far are they? So for example, a couple of them, when you talk about your lease, but also you spoke about asset life cycle. And so where exactly is it sitting? I mean, those could be important trigger points to decide if someone has a portfolio, which one do you move on first versus saying that I'm going to take all of them because you can't literally do all of them together, I mean, in that sense.
Yeah. And you've got to stage these things and that's part of it, I suppose, doing a feasibility study, you need to look at. Each building will have its own unique challenges and opportunities. A lot of the technical issues will be common across the buildings, but, you know, where you put equipment is obviously going to be unique for each.
Depending on what's been built and so on. Yeah. So, that actually brings me to the next question. You spoke about the feasibility study. Now, and maybe you could give this answer a basis, not tier one, tier two, but the basis of the skills that you've seen while through your interactions. Is this feasibility study like, you know, when you say, you know, just take a look at your gas bills.
And they sound like simple things to do in the initial part of it. Like, you can take your gas bills, put them together, see what your consumption is, so on and so forth. But rest of the kind of framework that you've kind of laid down in terms of trigger points, going back to your designs and stuff like that.
Is it an exercise that someone could do on their own or that's where the consultants really come into play and say, this is where you really bring in a consultant and say, sort it out for me, in terms of gimme a roadmap. I would like to think that portfolio owners could do this in house, but for most organizations, it's the first time because everyone's really sort of starting on this journey.
Yeah, you're probably going to need some guidance initially, but in getting that support, you'll be wanting to say, well, can you, as you're doing this, if you do one or two for me, can we also do some training? So for a large portfolio, you want the facility managers in those portfolios to be able to do quite a bit of the legwork rather than, you know, paying for a consultant to travel around to all the buildings and all the costs that incurs.
That's a major cost. And the reality is there's just that there would be too much work To do for that to all just be outsourced. I think a lot of this can be done in what is certainly the feasibility stage because if you look at your building, it's what's the electrical Capacity. So what's the peak electrical demand in the winter and in the summer, compared to what the capacity of the building is.
So, you know, I need to put some heat pumps in for space heating and for domestic hot water. Where could I put them in the building? You ideally want them to be very well ventilated, preferably rooftop because they work a bit like cooling towers. You know, vertical discharge. You can do them in plant rooms horizontally.
They're less efficient there, but that may be the only opportunity. So, where can you put the heat pumps? Where's the space for them? Where's the ventilation? you'll typically need some storage tanks, certainly for domestic hot water you'll need. Storage tanks can be relatively small for space heating.
You'll want some sort of buffer tank typically. If you're putting the heat pumps in places, you might need to look at getting planning approval. If it has a visual impact, It might need a structural check if you're putting it under a roof somewhere. Yeah, these things aren't that heavy, but they still need to be checked.
If it's next to an adjacent building, you might need to think about, you know, acoustics, issues. They're all, I think, relatively easily solvable. The big, main challenge is where are you going to put it? Like, where's the space? So that's infrastructure. How, where is that going to go into your existing building is what it was, you know, and any storage tanks don't need to be located next to them, but they need to be ideally not far.
and I suppose that's where you need your engineers to get creative. So you think for the space, you can use rules of thumb, you know, a typical rule of thumb at a design stage is you'll need four times the area. Or a space heating heat pump than you would for gas boilers. But then it's not quite as simple as that because heat pumps are quite modular.
So you don't have to put them all in one row. If you can't, you can split them up and fit them into spaces. And when you're talking about existing buildings, you know, you sometimes need to be a bit creative and work with the constraints that you have. It would be pretty rare to say it's impossible.
To do anything. If you have to do it, then you'll find a way of doing it. So there's always a solution. It's whether that is viable for a particular building or particular owner at that time is that that's where you start getting some, you know, costings done. But the first step is, you know, how many heat pumps do I need?
Where would I put them? You know, what's the electrical load? All those things can be done using sort of rules of thumb and build up across a portfolio Where the opportunities are, then you can build up a business case, you know, orders of magnitude of cost. And at that point, you then go in to get somebody to design it for you, because then it gets into the technicalities of delivering it.
but that's certainly that the feasibility study does not need to be super technical, but needs to be technically enough to identify what the issues are to then form a bridge for somebody to take it forward. So what you're recommending is that the first step is to get a brief physical feasibility study done.
It does not need to be a complete end to end technical document, but yet it needs to have a certain level of technicalities taken into consideration. So let's say if someone gets this, but, you know, maybe as a recap of the framework. So one, you're saying, look at the triggers, first collect all the data that you can, which is readily or should be readily available, which is your bills, your design, where all gases are being used, how it's being used, equipment and assets.
The second is for you to. Look at maybe look at the trigger points. Once you have this information and say, okay What assets are going through or probably going to go through the asset life cycle so on and so forth You have renewals coming up, am I talking about a new lease because they could be great trigger points for you to then get better prices, so on and so forth and once you have those trigger points plus the initial data available Engage with a consultant purely from the guidance perspective not from the groundwork perspective if you have that team available But get a real sensible feasibility analysis done in terms of how feasible is it going to be for that particular building to take gas out and move into electricity.
And when we say how feasible, not just saying that, yes, it's feasible, but actually having some basic thumb rules mentioned, here's where the equipment's going to go. This is what likely needs to happen. So on and so forth. Is that what the feasibility docent would have? Yes, and then that would then also give them the brief of what needs to then be.
Further investigate it because it will identify what information you didn't have that will be needed. Instead of just saying, can you give me a design to get gas out of this building, you've done the starting point is to work out what's likely to be needed. And then you can create that brief. so, what do you say that brief becomes the brief to the designer and say, here's a feasibility study.
Here's what the study said. This is your brief now help me with the design or whatever provisions that are needed to be done. And in that, yeah, because, you know, because you're then going to have to start looking at, you know, doing detailed calculations, looking at how you're going to connect up. I mean, there's another, because the feasibility study might identify, you've got a real problem with Your electrical capacity.
So there's, yeah, there then might be an exercise. So what can we do about that electrical capacity before we start designing all of the heat pumps? So, you know, and it's looking at where the opportunities are to shift that peak demand. So you could be looking at more thermal storage so that you're shifting the peak demand so it doesn't all coincide you look at if you've got other systems in the building, how can you control those a little bit better, you know, if you're looking at preheating your building you do it sooner you want to look at where the electrical cost is.
So you're basically saying that, you know, once you've done the feasibility, there's also a natural extension to demand side management and looking at those concepts, I mean, don't want to delve deeper, but you're probably suggesting that all can be well thought of at the post feasibility study and at the design stage.
Is that what your recommendation would be? I think so. If you have an issue with electrical capacity, you might not have a problem because your cooling load might be so much more than your heating load that shifting your building to All electric heating is well below the capacity that you're changing to, so again, it's just not, you're not just adding things on you're looking at the time of use is going to become more and more critical in buildings as we go forward, because.
As we get more and more renewables in buildings and particularly solar and solar farms, generally, this is certainly what's happening in Australia because we've got so much solar and rooftop solar in the middle of the day, electricity prices are often negative. The wholesale price of electricity is negative.
You have to pay for literally paying people to say, please take care. So but then it goes up quite a lot at four o'clock in the afternoon as the sun goes down, you still got wind, you still got other renewables. The famous dot curve as you would say, yeah. The dot curve is very much in evidence in Australia most days, even in the winter.
so thinking about batteries, thinking about buildings as batteries. So how does it, how can a building that's using electricity store that electricity to use it, you know, you bring the energy in when it's cheap, use it, and use that stored energy and energy storage doesn't necessarily mean batteries.
It can be thermal storage, water storage, we're talking, you know, heating hot water storage. So these are all things to start putting into the detail design stage, but, yeah, that makes sense. But again, I think you've decoupled what can be going into feasibility study.
And I think one major takeaway is that your feasibility study does not need to be a very detailed design document, but a precursor to what you really do in a design stage in that sense. So I think that's there. I mean, I think, and you've also explained what needs to be done once you have the feasibility study.
That's where your commitment comes into picture and say, okay, are you now committed to saying, okay, let me take that next step in my, sort of a declassification kind of a journey or electrification journey in that sense. thank you so much David, this was awesome. I mean, I think the framework looks very, pretty clear.
I think and just as a recap, maybe for the listeners, you've got your data bills, everything together, get your design, I mean, initial drawings and stuff, figure out where gas is being used. Look at any of the triggering points, which could be asset, life cycle that's coming through renewal, that's coming through refurbishment, that's coming through.
Or any new initiative that you're planning. You could be planning on putting in EVs, you know, charging infrastructure and stuff like that. David's recommendation is take a systems approach and don't take a sort of only a myopic approach in at least when you're moving in from, your mindset of moving from gas to electricity.
And once you would have done that, with a fair bit of design perspective, not a very detailed one, you would have a good enough feasibility study that could form the precursor of everything. Thank you. You sort of go forward in that sense. So that's a pretty clear framework and David will definitely come back to you in six months time and just check how things are going from, from the tier two, tier three perspective.
But, thank you so much, mate. Really appreciate your time. It was a pleasure talking to you if there's any passing comment that you would want to make before we say goodbye to our listeners. No, look, well, thank you very much. I enjoyed the chat. And I think the main message I hope is, this is not as hard as it sounds.
Just give it a go and don't do some preliminary work. Suss out what the challenges are, where the opportunities are, and then just get on with it because we're all going to do this over the next, You know, 10, 15 years. So the sooner you start, the sooner your building is ready for the future.
So as Nike says, just do it. That's what David's saying. Thank you so much, David. And thank you so much to the listeners for tuning in. Goodbye until next time. Thank you. See ya.