Jemma Green is a research fellow at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute (CUSP).

She is currently conducting doctoral research on battery storage and modular construction.

Architecture and Design spoke to Green about sustainability in Australia, battery storage and the future of sustainable energy technology.

What is the greatest challenge for sustainability in Australia at the moment?

Getting mainstream awareness (and therefore demand) that building green is actually cheaper – the cost savings outweigh upfront costs and justify the capital investment. Once consumers get this, they will start demanding it of the building sector and of policy makers.

How is the rest of the world dealing with that challenge?

Other developed countries have an impressive programme to build climate appropriate housing, densify cities, build mass transit and increase renewable energy. This all adds up to more livable cities. Cities that are doing this are attracting the top jobs and people to them, giving them an economic advantage. It’s not just about it being pretty and comfortable. 

Sustainability is a means of competitive advantage. Many European and US cities are doing this particularly well, such as Portland, Munich, London and Copenhagen.

An announcement was recently made in Western Australia that battery storage and electric vehicle systems will be able to export excess electricity into the grid. What impact will that have on the architecture and design industry?

This will have a significant impact on building design. Developers will want to maximise solar and storage on-site (to capture market demand and also avoid headworks costs) and so buildings will be designed to optimise for rooftop solar PV and reduced energy demand for air conditioning.

What impact do you think it will have on the cost of batteries?

I think the impact on the cost of the technology will be negligible as Perth is a small market in the global context, but it will increase the demand for these technologies here and as a result the industry will develop these capabilities as mainstream rather than niche, and therefore the installation and servicing costs will be more cost competitive. This will also drive innovation around the use of storage and new related industries will emerge.

Do you think there is a shift in the government's approach to sustainable energy technologies?

Yes – there are a number of things happening at the federal government level. Under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, wind energy is now an option where it makes economic sense, whereas under Abbott it was not. Similarly, Turnbull is open to mass transit technologies such as light rail and heavy rail, whereas Abbott said he would only fund roads. Turnbull also put the Innovation Statement and investment package together to get Australia's economy calibrated to the technology sector.

Federal bodies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, that were looking to be under the chopping block with Abbott, are now looking safer. All told, the outlook for renewable energy technologies is far more positive than this time last year.

How do you see the sustainable energy technology industry evolving over the next five years?

Storage will be a technology deployed in the mainstream in Australia – there will be widespread uptake of this in households and it will change Australia's energy system from being centralised to being a hybrid of centralised and decentralised.

What is one thing another country is doing in terms of sustainability that you think Australia should be doing?

There are many examples. Singapore is doing a lot policy-wise to mandate modular construction in their building sector. The UK has a modular construction financial underwriting instrument so that banks will lend to the modular sector.

In the energy space, Germany is taking a sophisticated approach to what kind of energy system it wants and has incentives to increase the uptake of renewables and storage.

Some countries have big plans for renewable energy – China and India are growing their energy bases in renewables dramatically, as is the US, and are rewiring their economies around these new technologies. Australia can look to many examples to see what can be done and how it can be achieved. If countries like the US, China and India can move, we are only limited by what we believe is possible.