30 January 2014 — CitySmart, Brisbane’s sustainability agency, is planning a centralised cooling system and a unique energy savings program for small to medium sized business, as it brings together industry, government and the community to help solve the city’s environmental challenges.

The agency was formed by Brisbane City Council to create partnerships with business, community and other levels of government. And it seems to be doing a good job of getting everyone together, particularly in the built environment, with foundation partners including heavyweights like Arup, Urbis, GHD and Lend Lease.

CitySmart is working on multiple levels, with residential programs to reduce environmental footprints, energy efficiency programs targeting small to medium enterprises, large community festivals and major infrastructure projects catering to large CBD office towers.

District cooling

One of the latest ambitious projects for CitySmart is a district cooling system being considered for Brisbane’s central business district.

Though widely used overseas, and in some single-campus applications in Australia, including James Cook University’s Townsville campus, this would be the first district cooling system to be installed in an Australian CBD, and if it goes ahead it could mean huge savings for commercial offices and increased competitive advantage.

The agency has been engaged in a feasibility study for the past two years, with initial findings suggesting that for a capital investment of $230 million, economic benefits could total over $530 million and create more than 500 jobs, according to CitySmart.

Brisbane CBD could be set for a district cooling system.

This large infrastructure investment needs to jump through some hoops before it can get the green light, however, with CitySmart currently undertaking lengthy stakeholder engagement to find out what the market appetite and commercial viability of the system is.

There could be significant  energy and water efficiency gains, and better sustainability outcomes, if a centralised system is employed for the CBD. A district cooling system would be able to replace airconditioning chillers and cooling towers within individual buildings, supplying them instead with chilled water through underground pipes.

The system can be retrofitted to existing buildings, so when a chiller reaches end of life, instead of purchasing a new one, capital costs could be avoided (though there would be a connection fee) by connecting to the central system.

Combined with thermal energy storage, the system could chill water during cheap off-peak periods and supply it to buildings during the day.

Estimates are that peak demand could be reduced by more than 20 megawatts, with 20 gigawatt-hours of electricity saved a year; a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 21,000 tonnes a year; and a water saving of around 10 per cent.

Watt Savers

Another program of interest is Watt Savers, CitySmart’s attempt to get small to medium sized enterprises interested in energy savings. The program, launched last July thanks to funding from the Federal Government’s Energy Efficiency Information Grants program, targets businesses that have not considered that energy savings could be an important business opportunity.

The program, which involves partners Rio Tinto, Business South Bank, Energex and University of Southern Queensland, provides free of charge to SMEs and community organisations in South East Queensland:

  • online fact sheets with tips for energy-saving practices
  • a telephone advisory services for member businesses
  • information on how to access finance and funding options to save energy
  • workshops to gain expert advice and learn from others in the field
  • a heavily subsidised on-site energy review

CitySmart is looking to take approximately 300 SMEs in the area through the Watt Savers program to guide them through common opportunities to reduce energy.

Watt Savers is currently preparing for the last of a series of workshops on energy efficiency opportunities for SMEs to be held on 18 February in Brisbane.

CitySmart says the workshops provide SMEs access to experts they wouldn’t otherwise know existed, and that it is a unique opportunity not to be missed.

CitySmart also spruiks the workshops as being distinctive in that they are tailored to specific industries. During the workshop, there would be breakout roundtables of no more than 10 people who would then have industry specific and tailored information, as well as one-on-one access to relevant industry experts and exposure to similar organisations.

While outcome data is not available on the Watt Savers program due its novelty, an interim report is currently being undertaken with results soon to become available.

In lieu, WattSavers has a range of illustrative case studies available to show businesses what typical energy savings may be available to them.

Case study

A nice example is that of the Ship Inn Hotel, a pub that was a classic example of a business not understanding energy. There was a lot of energy waste, particularly through poor behaviour, and sustainability did not become a priority until the functions and events team noticed it was becoming an important consideration for potential clients.

The owners saw an opportunity for sustainability to become integral to their business and so sought out savings opportunities to:

  • improve their brand and product
  • achieve savings
  • become the leading hospitality venue in sustainability

The case study provides a good illustration of how low cost and no cost opportunities can lead to big savings. 50-watt halogen spotlights were replaced with 3.5-watt LED equivalents throughout the bar, fluoro tube lights were replaced with low watt LED tubes throughout the kitchen and office, and atmospheric fluoro lighting was removed throughout bar and replaced it with low watt LED rope lighting.

However, the biggest savings were through behaviour modification, with staff trained to turn of lights and appliances when they were not needed.

These simple changes have led to a 21 per cent saving on energy bills, or around $10,795 a year.

Key outcomes included:

  • energy savings – 181,474 MJ or 21 per cent
  • GHG emissions savings – 52.4 tonnes CO2-e or 21 per cent
  • waste reduction – 53m3 or 27 per cent
  • potable water savings – 6.8kL or seven per cent
  • avoided costs efficiency savings – $10,795 per year

Go to www.wattsavers.com.au for more information.