Monash University's Passive House office

Monash University has announced it will spend $135 million over the next 13 years to take its campus to 100 per cent renewables, cutting out gas entirely.

According to Monash engineering and sustainability manager Dr Rob Brimblecombe, the project will also see university buildings target Passive House certification, following a successful pilot program that saw a building perform “three to four times better” than standard in terms of energy use.

The Net Zero project will involve energy reduction, renewables, storage, building sustainability, electrifying the campus to cut gas dependence, and the development of a microgrid.

Monash president and vice-chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner said the initiative was the most ambitious sustainability project undertaken by any Australian university, going well beyond simply purchasing offsets.

“Monash is actively reducing its emissions and, by transforming our energy infrastructure and following a deep decarbonisation strategy, ensuring that all the energy we use on our campuses is clean,” she said.

“The university strives to completely eliminate its dependence on fossil fuels. By 2030 all of our energy consumption will be electric and from renewable sources.”

The carbon neutral ambition will also extend beyond emissions of the campus, including residual emissions from operations such as plane travel.

Dr Brimblecombe said the program would utilise research being conducted at the university “to show that a 100 per cent renewable future is not only possible, but good for business and the planet too”.

The university already has a 20 per cent energy reduction program, 1MW of solar (and plans for 3MW more) and a buildings policy that requires a sustainability rating for all new buildings over $100 million. By 2020 it is expected to be generating 7GWh of energy a year, enough to power 1000 homes.

PPAs in the works

Dr Brimblecombe told The Fifth Estate that as the university was relatively energy intensive, it was expected that on-site renewables would cover 10-20 per cent of total energy requirements “assuming we get much more efficient”.

The rest will be procured through a power purchase agreement with a large-scale renewable energy supplier. The university is currently talking to the market about procuring energy from the equivalent of a 50MW solar farm, which would cover about half of the university’s current uses, with the balance to be purchased by 2030.

Compelling case for cutting the gas

Dr Brimblecombe said there was a financial basis for coming off gas.

“Gas has become a lot more expensive,” he said.

Currently the university is paying the same per megajoule for gas and electricity, but because electric heat pumps can provide heating more efficiently, there’s a compelling case for electrification, particularly when taking into account the emissions reductions benefits.

Solar thermal will also be part of the heating solution, with the university just having completed the first phase of a district heating system, connecting up 400kW of high-temperature solar thermal, which could scale up to a megawatt in the next couple of years.

Passive House the new target

Dr Brimblecombe said building sustainability was a key plank of the plan, with a “big push for us to go to Passive House certification” following a successful pilot program of its Building and Property office, which has onsite renewables powering 65-70 per cent of its energy needs.

There is already a large residential building, large office and large teaching and learning centre in the planning stage being designed to meet the standard.

While the pilot building fell short of meeting the requirements for Passive House certification, it still is operating “three to four times better” than standard buildings. But Dr Brimblecombe said meeting the requirements for the standard was still important.

“The intent improves the building, but we’re looking to the standard as quality assurance.”

Microgrid a demonstration of resilience

The microgrid project will allow the university to generate, store and manage consumption of energy on-site, reducing draw on the grid.

“The Monash Microgrid will provide a real-world example demonstrating how communities can keep their energy system affordable and resilient, in particular during peak periods and extreme weather events,” Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute director Dr Jacek Jasieniak said.

“We’re using our campuses and research to develop scalable clean energy solutions that can be tested here and deployed around the world.”

The CEFC has helped finance the microgrid and the Victorian government has also contributed $100,000 in seed funding.

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