Why be energy efficient?

HVAC system

HVAC system (iStock).

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) electricty consumption typically accounts for around 40% of total building consumption and 70% of base building (i.e. landlord) electricty consumption 1 It also contributes to manufacturing facility energy use and costs. HVAC dominates peak building electricity demand, so improving its efficiency can reduce peak demand electricity charges. Capital and maintenance costs of HVAC equipment also comprise a significant proportion of building costs. In addition, high performing buildings are now getting better returns as tenants and purchases are demanding to occupy sustainable buildings. The introduction of the Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) regulations is also providing greater incentive for building owners to improve building performance and HVAC efficiency.

While significant energy and capital savings can be made through investing in energy efficient HVAC systems when constructing new buildings, good strategies exist to optimise energy use in existing HVAC systems. These strategies include reducing demand for HVAC services and ensuring good maintenance practices.2

The Heating Ventilation and Air-Conditioning High Efficiency Systems Strategy (HVAC HESS) is a ten year State and Federal Government initiative that aims to drive long term improvements in the energy efficiency of HVAC systems. For more information see the HVAC HESS website.

For information on types and components of HVAC systems, see Technology background – Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning.


A good energy efficient HVAC strategy relies on an integrated approach that combines the following factors:

  • Reduce demand for HVAC services

    Various methods exist to reduce mechanical heating and cooling demand including improved building insulation, high-performance window glazing, natural ventilation, external...
  • Optimise the use of existing HVAC systems

    HVAC system optimisation may require the use of control systems and thermostats, modifications to the ventilation and distribution systems, and...
See all opportunities in Heating, ventilation and air conditioning

Case studies

  • Council House 2 - Melbourne City Council (Opens in a new window)

    This case study profiles CH2, a 6 star building which features shower towers, phase change materials and chilled ceiling panels as the energy efficient radiant cooling system. In the summer, the building is naturally cooled at night by purging air. Windows on the north and south facades open to allow air to flow in and out. This reduces air conditioning energy demands by 20%.

  • 30 The Bond – Lend Lease 2007 (Opens in a new window)
    • Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
    • PDF 561 KB

    Located at Millers Point in Sydney, 30 The Bond was the first building in Australia to use chilled-beam air conditioning technology, which is responsible for the building’s excellent energy efficiency performance. The warm air created by people and equipment is cooled by the chilled ceiling panels which contain water passing through cooling elements similar to a radiator in a car. This causes the cooled air to fall, creating a natural convection process. Overheating from expansive glazed windows is avoided through use of individually operated external shades.

Key resources

  • Calculating Cool 2014

    Released on 1 October 2014, this standard rating tool uses both quantitative data and qualitative information covering HVAC design, installation and operation to benchmark energy efficient performance and identify potential areas for improvement.

    It is currently free for use by users wishing to benchmark the performance of HVAC systems in Australian office buildings with a Nett Lettable Area of 2,000m2 or more.

  • Energy Saver Training: Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning 2014
    • NSW Department of Environment & Heritage
    • Website

    Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) is a significant energy user for many businesses and can account for over half of a base building’s total energy costs. This training provides a structured approach to HVAC operation and maintenance to help businesses understand and implement energy efficient HVAC optimisation and maintenance practices.

  • Energy Saver Training: Commercial Refrigeration 2014
    • NSW Department of Environment & Heritage
    • Website

    The study of leading-edge technology in commercial refrigeration is an opportunity to gain an advantage over your competitors. This practical and interactive Energy Saver course assists commercial refrigeration contractors in better understanding how to optimise equipment and support the development of an energy efficiency business case for clients.

  • Industrial Refrigeration and Chilled Glycol and Water Applications Technology Report 2011 (Opens in a new window)

    This report outlines 15 energy saving technologies available to increase the energy efficiency of an industrial refrigeration plant. Where possible, for each technology the annual energy savings, capital costs and payback periods have been estimated by considering examples.

  • Wireless Metering – HVAC systems 2012
    • Council of Australian Governments

    Wireless Metering reviews the suitability of electrical sub-metering and wireless sensor technologies for retrofit applications to existing HVAC systems. The report delivers on the goals of the Heating Ventilation and Air-Conditioning High Efficiency Systems Strategy (HVAC HESS) Measurement, Monitoring and Metering Project (Phase 1).

  • Guide to Best Practice Maintenance & Operation of HVAC Systems for Energy Efficiency 2012
    • Council of Australian Governments

    Historically, maintenance and operation of HVAC systems has focused on complying with statutory requirements for health and safety and providing occupant comfort, with little consideration given to long term value for money. Therefore, opportunities for achieving energy and water efficiency gains have been neglected and lifecycle costs not given due diligence.

    The Guide to Best Practice Maintenance & Operation of HVAC Systems for Energy Efficiency is designed to be a change accelerator and encourage those working with the maintenance and operation of HVAC systems to focus on improving energy and water efficiency. The guide covers: HVAC maintenance implementation process; building operation and documentation; financial and environmental evaluation; and HVAC equipment and efficiency. It was developed under the HVAC High Efficiency Systems Strategy in accordance with the Government’s National Strategy on Energy Efficiency (NSEE).

  • Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Technology Overview 2011 (Opens in a new window)
    • UK Carbon Trust

    This overview of HVAC technology presents the main energy saving opportunities for businesses and outlines how simple actions can save energy, cut costs and increase profit margins.

  • Emerging Energy-Saving HVAC Technologies and Practices for the Buildings Sector 2009
    • American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

    This analysis highlights 15 of the most promising HVAC-related emerging technologies. An important finding of this study is that the well-spring of emerging technologies and practices has not been drawn down, but continues to yield promising measures with high energy-savings potential.

    Note, this publication is free to access, but users must register first.

  • Technology Roadmap – Energy-efficient Buildings: Heating and Cooling Equipment 2011 (Opens in a new window)

    This publication summarises the numerous emerging technical and design innovations occurring in the HVAC system field. It finds that urgent action is required if the building stock of the future is to consume less energy and result in lower CO2 emissions.

For more resources, see Resources – Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning.

Footnotes ~ Show 2 footnotes

  1. Council of Australian Governments (2012) Guide to Best Practice Maintenance and Operation of HVAC Systems for Energy Efficiency, Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
  2. Smith M, Hargroves K, Stasinopoulos P, et al (2007) Opportunities for Improving the Efficiency of HVAC Systems – Best Practice Guide in Energy Transformed: Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change Mitigation. CSIRO. ANU. GU. TNEP