Brisbane is on track to have Australia’s first CBD district cooling system, with an agreement for the design and planning phase signed on Wednesday with a consortium of Cofely Australia and Thiess Services.
The system could replace existing individual chillers and cooling towers in buildings with a centralised plant supplying chilled water via a network of underground pipes. Efficiency benefits are massive. Energy savings could be up to 30 per cent for individual buildings, with benefits to grid infrastructure thanks to a 20 megawatt a year drop in peak demand, and 24,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide cut.
Savings on chiller replacement could be up to $250,000, industry estimates suggest.
“When combined with thermal energy storage, the district cooling system will chill water during off-peak periods and then supply it to CBD buildings during the day, resulting in significant energy savings and helping to deliver on Council’s vision for a clean, green city,” acting Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said.
“We recognise the importance of smart energy solutions in the long-term development of the CBD and have been working towards this goal with CitySmart – our sustainability agency – and industry partners including Energex, who have provided significant financial and resource support for this project.”
The Fifth Estate wrote about the plans back in January, when CitySmart was in the process of an in-depth stakeholder engagement process with building owners in the Brisbane CBD to see what the market appetite was for district cooling, and the commercial viability.
CitySwitch found that for a capital investment of $230 million, economic benefits could total $530 million and create more than 500 jobs.
What’s needed, though, is buildings willing to sign up. However, sources say that with around 75 per cent of Brisbane office buildings built before 1988, there are a lot of airconditioning chillers at the end of their 25-year lives, which makes them prime candidates to connect to the proposed system.
Consortium now open to assess candidates
The consortium seems confident the project will go ahead. Matthew Dodson, manager strategy and new markets at Thiess, told The Fifth Estate there were roughly 200 buildings that had been identified as suitable for the district cooling system in the Brisbane CBD, with around 25 per cent of them potentially able to connect within the next five years.
What Thiess and Cofely needed to do now was approach building owners and, with their consent, determine if there is a demonstrable lifecycle benefit by looking at a building’s current peak energy demand, airconditioning load and plant age. Mr Dodson said a cluster of suitable buildings in a geographic area would then be approached to connect to the first stage of the system.
Candidate buildings would have to have water cooled airconditioning, a pipe network in the building and, for there to be a financial case, an airconditioning plant near replacement age. Buildings that had just upgraded their chillers probably would not be appropriate at this stage, he said.
It is understood CitySmart has entered into memorandums of understanding with some building owners who have expressed intent to investigate the next stage. And there’s at least one keen building owner who will definitely sign up should the project go ahead.
Savings could be huge
Cost savings for potential building could be massive, and not just in terms of cheaper bills. To replace an existing chiller can cost upwards of $250,000 for many buildings, as a crane needs to be hired, the roof opened up, the old system taken out and a new one put in. By connecting to the district cooling system, building owners would have the option of leaving the old system in the building unused, or remove it and free up some space. Over the lifecycle, cost savings are expected to be in order of 10-30 per cent for suitable buildings.
New buildings slated for the CBD will also find the centralised system economically inviting, saving on the capital and maintenance costs of an airconditioning plant, while also freeing up lettable space, allowing for greater returns.
Buildings undergoing major refurbishment are also prime candidates. For Brisbane this might include commercial space transformed into residential, as the Property Council recently called for to deal with a glut of low grade building stock. Mr Dodson said these buildings would be “absolutely ideal” to connect.
Head of GDF Suez Energy Services (Cofley’s parent company) international division Etienne Jacolin said Cofely was confident of success.
“We are confident of delivering a world-class district cooling project with Thiess, which will deliver energy, capital and cost savings for Brisbane, giving it a competitive edge over other capital cities in terms of affordability and resilience,” he said.