The Lodge - A showcase of Aussie clean energy know-how?

A day after Clean Energy Act passed the House of Reps, a renovation of The Lodge was announced without any thought of upgrading its energy efficiency. But delays to works mean it's not too late for an Australian clean energy showcase.

In 2011 the Gillard Government announced that a major refurbishment of The Lodge in Canberra was about to commence. Australia’s number 1 residential address was in a poor condition and needed work.

As there was no mention of the refurbishment being anything other than conventional, I wrote to the Prime Minister Julia Gillard highlighting the wonderful opportunity to turn the refurbishment into a showcase clean energy project, highlighting the very best energy efficiency products and services Australian industry could deliver.

Unfortunately I’ve heard nothing since.

And that’s where things rested… except with the government announcing in December that the project was running way behind schedule  and that it would start later this year, it made me wonder if it’s not too late.

What better way to demonstrate the government’s commitment to clean energy than greening the PM’s house? I suspect the lack of response sadly just goes to show, despite the carbon price and the billions being spent on the clean energy package, just how little has changed within the government itself. Prime Minister: it’s still not too late!”

Here’s my letter to the PM with some slight embellishment to take into account the impending election and the passage of time. Let’s hope the PM finally takes note.


Dear Prime Minister,

The Lodge, Canberra: a clean energy showcase

Thirty two years ago, on June 20, 1979, President Jimmy Carter stood in front of 32 brand new solar panels on the roof of the West Wing of the White House and declared: "In the year 2000, this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy.”

The system didn’t make it to 2000. In 1986, Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, had the system pulled down.

For both Presidents, each act was symbolic of national policy at the time. For Jimmy Carter, installation of the solar panels symbolised the Democrat’s support for renewable energy and energy efficiency and for his desire to cut American dependence on imported oil after the two crippling oil crises of the 70s. For Republican Ronald Reagan, tearing down the solar panels symbolised that the fossil fuel lobby was back running Washington.

I am writing as a businessman who has been working in buildings, energy efficiency and renewable energy for the past 15 years, with a proposal that your government makes the recently-announced refurbishment of The Lodge a tangible manifestation of the Clean Energy program.

I accept that The Lodge does not have the same symbolic importance for our nation as The White House and the West Wing. However, as a clean energy entrepreneur, I was dismayed that just one day before your historic Clean Energy legislation passed through the House of Representatives, the Special Minister of State could announce a major refurbishment of The Lodge, without any apparent thought of making this project a showcase clean energy project.

Certainly, this could be a project to simply do some long-overdue renovations to a 1927 Canberra residence. But my vision is that this should be a high-profile, exciting project to transform that residence into a 21st century clean energy showcase of Australian technology, manufacturing and design brilliance.

The elements might be something like this.

The Lodge goes carbon neutral, with solar PV and gas microgeneration on-site. Every new piece of hardware or software will be installed for its environmental benefits and for its ability to showcase Australian design and manufacturing excellence. The site becomes a living trade expo for local manufacturers of low-carbon products.

The roof will be heavily insulated. The windows will be replaced with high performance, Australian-made, double-glazing. Skylights will maximise natural light. In go AAA-rated taps and showerheads, rainwater harvesting and a greywater treatment plant. Hot water will come from a locally-manufactured solar water heater with backup from a fuel cell (they do exist!).

A sophisticated Australian-built lighting control system will control the lights. Lamps will be LED. A sub-metering system will record The Lodge’s power use in different parts of the house in real time, and we’ll all be able to view your energy use on a new website, perhaps We’ll see how The Lodge’s energy use changes before, during and after the project.

Making this happen

Do not leave this to the Department of Finance. They should, of course, run the tendering, but from experience I suggest a Clean Energy Lodge working group of outside experts with control over the design and construction, working with your full authority, with Finance providing project management and construction management.

This project would take two years.

In mid-2015, I want to hear you, or who knows, maybe Malcolm Turnbull, dedicate your solar panels at The Lodge, and to see how the nation’s best designers, manufacturers and tradespeople have turned the nation’s top address into a showcase that sells Australia’s clean energy talents to the world.

Indeed I reckon even Tony Abbott could be a convert once he sees what’s possible through direct experience.

If I can help in any way, let me know.

Yours Sincerely,

Gavin Gilchrist

Managing Director – Big Switch Projects 

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