Big savings for businesses cutting climate change emissions & energy use.

On the superhighway to a low-carbon economy, energy efficiency - otherwise known as the 'first fuel' - represents the on-ramp.

It also provides the best opportunity for New Zealand businesses to slash energy use and save money while playing their part in emissions reduction.

That's one of the takeaways from the recent Climate Change and Business Conference hosted this month in Auckland by the Environmental Defence Society (EDS).

It's backed up by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) which estimates New Zealand businesses and households could save up to $2.3b a year by 2030 by implementing energy efficiency measures.

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Those measures include the electrification of operations, such as for transport and process heat, so will have significant benefits for the climate, given the high renewable proportion of our electricity (85 per cent) against the renewable proportion of our total energy mix (40 per cent). EECA calculates that, with all these measures in place, by 2030 up to 7 million tonnes of carbon emissions could be avoided every year.

EDS chief executive Gary Taylor says many businesses are yet to examine their energy efficiency.

"Many larger businesses are now in a more mature phase and driving harder for innovative and effective solutions. But there are a lot of businesses still to wake up to the opportunities from energy efficiency initiatives - particularly at SME level."

Taylor points out the 'greening' of our buildings can have substantial implications for bottom lines.

Commercial buildings use nine per cent of the country's total energy and energy is a decent chunk of a business's operating costs. Measures include the replacement of fluorescent and incandescent bulbs by LED lighting, solar PV installation, movement sensors for heating and lighting, insulation, and energy-efficient appliances.

EECA also encourages businesses wishing to take a close look at the performance of their buildings to use the NABERSNZ tool - a scheme to measure and rate the energy performance of office buildings in New Zealand (visit nabersnz.govt.nz for more information).

Taylor also sees transport as a business opportunity for savings and emissions reduction. With running costs and maintenance for electric vehicles about 20 per cent of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, companies should look closely at electrification of business fleets.
He says heavy vehicles will become electrified, if more slowly: "Waste Management is already running electric trucks."

Massey University's Professor Ralph Sims, guest speaker on food production and agriculture at the conference, says the production, transportation and consumption of food accounts for a third of energy use and emissions globally.

"For New Zealand that's huge," he says. "It's our biggest earner and companies in that sector have a huge opportunity.

"For example, much of the heat needed in that industry - such as in abattoirs and milk drying plants - is currently produced by burning coal in the South Island and gas in the North. There are opportunities from the likes of biomass and electro-thermal technologies - even on a very large scale."

There are several large operations in New Zealand using wood fuel. The biggest is at a large wood processing plant operated by Oji Fibre Solutions. Other opportunities for conversion include boilers for schools, rest homes, hospitals and swimming pools.

But Sims also points to small-scale examples, such as Wigram Lodge in Christchurch, which is saving $52,000 per year and reducing emissions by 146 tonnes after installation of a wood chip burner.

He also cites electric heat pump water heaters by the Northland District Health Board as good use of electro-thermal technology.

"These [technologies] are becoming cheaper and easier to implement all the time."

EECA helps businesses become energy efficient with a range of programmes and support (see www.eecabusiness.govt.nz).

Risky business
New Zealand businesses could also face future risks if they do not think about making changes fitting with climate change.

Duncan Currie, director of Globelaw, and a recent speaker at the Climate Change and Business Conference, warns: "Enlightened businesses are taking climate change considerations into account when making investment decisions - for example, using renewable resources over fossil fuels and being careful around disclosure and due diligence. If they're not looking at those options, they're effectively in denial and it may catch them in some way or another."

In overseas examples, last month the cities of San Francisco and Oakland began legal proceedings against oil companies Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, asserting they are responsible for the cost of sea level rise adaption infrastructure - the contention being they've known for decades the consequences of the burning of their product, yet continued to aggressively market and sell it.

Currie says: "Investment decisions may be affected by future climate change legislation, which then affects the value of that asset. As the price of carbon increases, it will have repercussions. You could see shareholders litigating against directors for allowing that to happen."