Climate Matters: NERAM nails the fine art of sustainability

In 2017, the New England Regional Art Museum won the Armidale and then the New England region’s NSW Business Chambers Awards for Excellence in Sustainability as well as being a finalist in the state awards in Sydney.

This recognition reflected NERAM’s commitment to becoming a more sustainable entity through its Sustainable NERAM strategy. Seeking funding and resources to implement a series of initiatives to improve the energy efficiency of the building and its operations over the past three years has been a major priority. 

People probably don’t realise how much energy a modern art museum uses in its day-to-day operations.

As well as the usual office and building facilities like computers, lights and air-conditioning, there is also the need for 24-hour climate control to keep the artworks at a safe temperature and humidity. The incandescent exhibition lighting systems consume an enormous amount of energy.

The NERAM building was built in 1983 when sustainable design wasn’t on many architects’ radar as a significant issue.

When we started this process, our yearly energy bills were nearly twice as much as we were receiving in annual funding from Arts NSW.

The Sustainable NERAM strategy was made possible by an energy audit of the facility by Essential Energy (then Country Energy) which identified opportunities for improving the efficiency of the building. These were then prioritised by the museum management who sought funding from government grants as well as raising funds from local donors to address each identified opportunity.  

The funds raised were able to cover the cost of quite large-scale building improvements including replacing all of the exhibition lights with new LED fittings (a $120,000 project), installing 240 new 370w solar panels on the roof of the building ($120,000) and replacing its cracked and chipped external wall cladding with new thermally insulated panels ($315,000).

The saving from the solar panels alone is more than $1000 a month in electricity bills. Our electricity bills went from $80,000 in 2015 down to $40,000 in 2017. This is a significant saving for a community facility like NERAM. 

It was also a pleasant surprise to see the level of community support these projects received from our donors and members. Each project raised thousands of dollars in donations from people in the community who saw that they could make a real difference to the way the art museum operated.

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