On trigen the musical, petal power and Big Data

4 September 2012 – We thought trigeneration was about reducing emissions in our environment. And that so was NABERS. And that the commercial and marketing advantage of a high NABERS building was a by-product of a good thing, not the main driver.

Not according to some views in the industry.

In its submission on the City of Sydney’s trigen masterplan the PCA says, “Owners are encouraged to connect to the trigen scheme as an opportunity to improve their NABERS rating but there is no real commercial value if everyone else does the same.

“Indeed, NABERS is meant to differentiate one building from another. The proposal seems to undermine the purpose of the NABERS scheme.”

Oops… NABERS is not yet a property marketing tool, we hope.

Wow, mention the word trigen in a room full of property and energy people and watch the sparks fly. Especially in Sydney.

Some of the issues raised at the recent PCA forum on the City’s trigen masterplan certainly raised concerns, but also some strong advocates for the technology.

It’s understandable that there are plenty of opposing views.

Trigen is new to Australia, it’s a technology that no-one had in mind when they designed and built the place and Sydney has some typographical and infrastructure problems that need to be worked around.

It’s also expensive and it’s important to ask if the money is being well spent.

Add to that the financial crisis placing stress across the industry.

But regardless of the difficulties this is a technology that also has plenty of staunch supporters.

This issue Lynne  Blundell has gone in search of the bigger picture and found plenty of reasons why trigen is still a good idea.

She’s also found some curious thinking, as above.

Another point made by the PCA, among others, is that the City would be better advised to get its energy efficiency master plan finalised first, before proceeding with trigeneration.

But is that fair?

We all know that energy efficiency is low hanging fruit and there is a business case for property owners doing their own thing anyway.

If the City is working on a master plan that creates some additional tools to help, even better.

But it’s no reason to stop work on a low carbon emissions energy system.
As we’re constantly reminded there are no silver bullets with renewable energy and energy efficiency. There’s room for myriad solutions.

That’s why it’s important to get the issues into the broad daylight. Let’s listen to the negatives, pick them over, and crowd source the solutions.

Let’s hear about the positives.

Jason McLenn, Monique Alfriss

Petal power
On Thursday we attended another event at Cox Richardson offices in Sydney, for founder of the Living Building Challenge Jason McLennan who is visiting Sydney as part of a whirlwind lecture and workshop tour in this part of the world. Next stop Auckland City Council which is looking to a precinct implementation of his “challenge” on a major waterfront site.

McLennan’s update was that his Living Future Institute now had 150 active projects worldwide in a program whose aim is to continually push the industry – or “encourage” it as he more politely put it – to go much further and quicker” that it otherwise would.

Cox, with Joe Agius as host, held the event as part of its design for Australia’s first Living Building Challenge, for

Craig Roussac, (left) Lester Partridge

the University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre.

What’s exciting is that the project will accommodate critical research focused on the sustainable retrofit of Australia’s existing building stock and the building’s fabric itself will be used for research, Agius said.

Promised is net zero energy, water and carbon.

More to come on that score.

The BIM bang
The thing you learn when you sit down with a bunch of technical software nerds such as the team from Bentley Systems, who are also architects and construction professionals, is that in the end it’s us: the residents, the office and factory workers and entertainment users who pay for the poor relations and the poor processes in the building industry.

Massive waste is embedded in the development process because we need to deliver materials ­ in certain job lots or lengths and what’s “over” is thrown out. That’s our precious resources in the skip.

Tom Dengenis in full swing at the Bentley seminar

Adversarial relationships are embedded because no-one can work out ahead of time who has to pay for a change in the design, or a mistake, or when the materials supplier stuffs up. The architect? The builder?

The dogfights that go on in court to work out who pays for the changes makes the old union threats on building sites look like a school picnic (if it weren’t for the violence; such as in recent weeks)

This all leads to a risk factor that must be allowed for at the onset. Risk means greater cost. And greater cost means higher rents or higher purchase prices.

Another way to look at it is that the materials cost and waste is a higher cost on the planet; and the time and labor and financial waste is a cost on the other planks of sustainability, social and economic.

Building information modelling, or BIM, has the potential to change all that.

Big data
In recent weeks The Fifth Estate has been exposed to some interesting technology and its potential. And it’s not just because we moved our server back to Australia or had to get a better newsletter mailing system (you might have to check your spam filter and “unspam” us for a while).

As part of our BIM, experience, we chatted after the Bentley forum to one of the speakers, Tom Dengenis of Synchro, which is software that links other software (in ultra simplistic terms).

Dengenis commented that worldwide is a huge campaign to convert compouterised information to computerised knowledge – to mimic, or even replicate, the way that humans can process information and come up with subtle creative solutions.

To illustrate the capability of big data, Dengenis said the first place that IBM would use big data was in a medical application.

It would become the triage nurse at a major hospital, so that when you come in with your violent seizure, or aching limbs, you will explain to a machine what the symptoms are and it will send you to the right doctor.


“One of the people doing big data is IBM. The other is Bentley,” Dengenis said.

But after that seminar, we kind of got this.

Oil and the food chain
Coming across our desk in recent days was news from medical practitioner and RMIT University Health Sciences Marc Cohen who says a massive overload of chemicals in our food and environment is killing most people before their time.

Professor Cohen says that “while chemicals can be toxic, they can also be extremely addictive and profitable.

“Our global society has become addicted to cheap, readily available fossil fuel and the 120,000 commercial chemicals derived from it.

“Chemical industries currently run the world with a handful of big oil, agriculture, pharma and food companies controlling the majority of the world’s energy, food, health and security.

“Our widespread use and dependence on industrial chemicals has contaminated the entire biosphere including our own bodies.

“The most recent report [of a major study] examined 212 chemicals and found chemicals such as PBDEs and BPA in nearly all participants tested.

“This study also confirmed previous reports suggesting that children bear the brunt of the toxic burden, with children being found to be more toxic than adolescents, who are in turn more toxic than adults.

“Children are not just little adults; they have higher food, fluid and air intake per kilogram of body weight and a higher metabolic rate and higher absorption of toxins than adults, as well as having immature detoxification and immune systems, developing organ systems and a longer latency period in which to develop chronic disease.”

You can contact professor Cohen at marc.cohen@rmit.edu.au