A Wrap Up of the Energy + Education Forum

Two weeks ago, we facilitated a unique forum in Melbourne that brought together thinkers from both the energy and education sectors. We invited four speakers from academia, research, utility management and campus infrastructure projects to discuss their learnings and current focus. The aim? To understand the opportunities and gaps in the education sector, particularly tertiary institutions, for teaching best practice energy efficiency, applying current knowledge to their built spaces and showing leadership in the process.

In addition to presenting, speakers also posed questions to participants in a reverse panel. Using the lenses of Pedagogy, Resilience, Equity, and Future to ensure we had a diversity of insights to the question, the participants turned their unique perspectives and experience into practical advice and ideas for the speakers and for each other.

Researcher and lecturer, Dr. Leslie Martin, kicked us off with a dive into the world of energy economics and the equity issues that arise with the current usage and systems of energy.

Economists and politics often look at the big picture and largest consumers of electricity. But when you get down to the community and individual level there are many variables that affect the cost and usage of electricity, which can have a significant impact on people's lifestyles and financial capabilities. For example, electricity costs are open to negotiation at the household level. But to do this effectively you need to know it’s possible, feel comfortable negotiating and speak English well. From an equity perspective, this alone excludes many people, often leaving those that can least afford it without the agency to change their situation.

Dr. Iain Jennings from 1circle followed with a technical look at the adoption of sustainable technologies, with his work on the Brisbane Catholic Education's network of 140+ schools as a case study.

When it comes to schools, they genuinely care about the environment and their building users, however there's a significant lack of information available to make the best decisions. With numerous vocal stakeholders, and catering to the needs of growing children, there are limits to the risks they can take and there are expectations for schools to behave in a certain way.

Innovative thinking is needed to move past this such as understanding the context and surrounding landscapes of a building in order to passively influence temperature and air quality and reduce pressure on air conditioning. Another opportunity is in utilising interactive platforms that share energy usage data between stakeholders and other schools. This can be incorporated into curriculum and it makes progress visible for adults and children alike. This approach can be used in many projects, especially in tertiary institutions as was reiterated by all speakers.

Usha Iyer-Raniga from RMIT University has been co-leading the UN One Planet Network Sustainable Buildings and Construction Programme and is dedicated to "changing the pace of building and construction across the world and injecting a sense of urgency in this sector”.  Usha sees a clear opportunity for universities to be truly engaged in bringing teaching and learning, research and industry together, in terms of energy and broader sustainability initiatives. No one truly works in isolation and we desperately need to develop soft skills in multidisciplinary teams to make the most positive progress. But how do you engage academics that are locked into institutional structures?

To improve interdisciplinary engagement and the academia-industry relationship, Usha's suggests considering: changing the word ‘cost’ to value for a whole-systems thinking approach; sharing data capture and research (including experiments and things that didn’t work); and stepping up to leadership roles in pushing beyond building code as minimum standards.

Our last speaker of the day, Rob Brimblecombefrom Monash University, got us in the headspace of thinking like a natural ecosystem, and like a cat. What if we took a leaf from that book and listened and learnt from the world around us? Could we communicate better with each other and with the spaces around us? Could those spaces adapt in response?

Trees are rooted in their community - they communicate and share, even with different species, and their functions are interwoven with the whole landscape. If we can get our buildings to function in a similar way, they can provide many more benefits to tenants, operators, the local community and the natural environment. In this flexibility is resilience, which is critical when faced with the unpredictable changes caused by things like the climate crisis.

 

To get to a point where all these ideas become mainstream thinking, we need to develop a connected community of cooperative researchers, builders, project managers, designers, and teachers, who come together to learn and to support those who don't have the means to take risks or make significant changes. With a city full of intuitive buildings and educated tenants, we can continue to teach future generations how to design, build, and operate spaces that work for the people that use them, and provide valuable data to help others follow their lead.

Thank you to all those who participated in this event! And an extra special thank you to Alinta Energy Geothermal whose support made this event possible - the dedication of our sponsors and partners allows us to facilitate unique opportunities for knowledge sharing, capacity building and creating connections, on our journey to a Living Future.