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A report from Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) and Melbourne's Monash University reveals that sustainable building practices not only benefit the environment but also have wide-ranging benefits for people.

However, there is little evidence to show that these benefits are being used as an incentive to encourage further sustainable building, despite the obvious economic potential of making this a point of difference.

Over the next two decades, humans will construct another 280 billion m2 of buildings, expanding the global building footprint faster than at any time in human history, highlighting the need to reform building design.

But it also highlights the need to find ways to decarbonise existing assets.

The buildings sector is the driver of about a fifth of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions giving it an important role in achieving net zero emissions.

Furthermore, emissions reductions from buildings are recognised as a key component of global scenarios that limit warming to 1.5° celsius.

Recent analysis suggests that while this sector has the potential to reduce emissions by 69 per cent below 2005 levels by  2030, it is on track for a one per cent reduction under current and proposed Australian policies.

Research has shown that residential energy savings from air source heat pumps in new houses and as retrofits could contribute 97 petajoules of net energy savings by 2050.

Heat pumps are a known technology that can be deployed in residential space and water heating, it is much more energy efficient than traditional electric resistance or gas-fired heaters.

The same principle can also be used to generate hot water, reducing energy used by around 60 per cent.

As hot water accounts for around 25 per cent of energy use in Australian homes, this would deliver a large  overall curtailment of energy use and emissions.

While most easily deployed in new builds, heat pumps are also suitable for replacing old units and can also be used in commercial buildings and industrial heat applications.

Increased installation of heat pumps is likely to be driven by technological factors like efficiency improvements and cost reductions, as well as market drivers such as rising gas prices.

Any future policies targeted at lowering energy use in buildings or reducing barriers to uptake, such as buildings and  equipment standards may help increase adoption, further lowering costs of this technology.

Total building optimisation is a technology enabled system innovation that can be applied in commercial buildings, leveraging computing technologies to optimise building equipment and appliances.

An example of this is BuildingIQ; a cloud-based software tool that ‘intelligently’ adjusts how a building’s HVAC control system operates according to settings that manage cost savings, occupant comfort and energy efficiency.

This technology has been found to deliver between 12 per cent and 30 per cent reductions in energy consumption.

Systems such as  this could be applied to offices, government buildings, shopping centres, hospitality facilities, universities and  hospitals.

It is feasible that future technological development in fields such as cloud computing, automation, real-time analytics, and integration with utilities and city infrastructure could help make this technology even more effective.

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