As one door closes, the researchers of the CRC for Low Carbon Living is already prising open another door – a bevy of industry support in cash and kind to back it up.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living officially closed on June 30, after seven years, with a long list of multidisciplinary research and innovation behind it and an equally long roll call of achievements to show for its efforts. All of them key to its overarching aim to reduce the carbon footprint of our built environment and develop strategies for adapting to climate change in a carbon-constrained future.
An event last Thursday to celebrate the achievements was well earned and well attended by the broad range of industry stakeholders who’ve been involved over the years. But already the focus was turning to proposals for another CRC – and its growing industry momentum.
CRCLCL chief executive, Professor Deo Prasad told The Fifth Estate after the celebrations that a range of stakeholders had pledged $145m of cash and in-kind investment for a new CRC for Future Cities. This one over 10 years.
The bid for Commonwealth support was lodged this week, and the outcome is expected to be known by the end of this year.
The aim, Professor Prasad said, was that this new CRC would address all 21 major cities in Australia, with Living Laboratories in each of them to examine key issues and opportunities and to generate solutions.
“We want to know how Parkes will evolve with regional rail, for example,” Professor Prasad said.
Cities such as Toowoomba and Wagga Wagga could be sites where research can be used to inform better design and planning and help those cities to be part of the journey towards low-carbon.
Regional universities such as Charles Sturt University and the University of New England would also be brought into the collaboration.
“Collaboration is a big opportunity,” Professor Prasad said.
Historically, the trend for research had been a siloed approach, he said. Scientists did science, architects did architecture, and engineers did engineering. The CRCLCL is proof that embracing the challenge of “crossovers” in research can work brilliantly.
In the CRC just wound up Professor Prasad said the benefits of collaboration have been significant.
A snapshot includes: 150 research projects, 17 Living Laboratories, four online CPD education models, 671 publications, papers and reports, six low carbon living guides and 23 modelling and forecasting tools.
The CRCLCL also established six research nodes that will continue its work such as an Energy Efficiency Node for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, BuiltBetter.org, an online knowledge hub for built environment professionals, and a book, Decarbonising the Built Environment, published by Palgrave Macmillan.
An $8 million educational investment in 104 PhD scholarships nationwide has resulted in some game-changing initiatives.
One PhD student, Dr Jemma Green, for instance, used blockchain technology in her research to trade energy between precinct residents. She went on to set up the energy trading company, PowerLedger, which won Richard Branson’s Necker Island challenge.
Another PhD student Dr Vanessa Rauland initiated ClimateClever, a project being rolled out nationally to educate school children on saving energy and waste by using the ClimateClever App. (See an article by Dr Rauland in our special reports on universities and education.)
The Living Laboratories program has also had a big influence on the trajectory towards a low-carbon built environment by generating evidence on building performance.
“For example, Josh’s House with its sophisticated monitoring system, demonstrates a perfect example of how a home can be self-sufficient and create more energy that it uses, while its design integrates water recycling and maximises ways to utilise the seasons for warmth and cooling,” Professor Prasad said.
A big beneficiary has been local government, particularly with research around climate change adaptation and urban heat management.
The Guide to Urban Cooling Strategies, for example, presents climate-appropriate interventions for each capital city that can be implemented at the council level.
Western Sydney councils have been leveraging the insights from the Cooling Western Sydney report.
In addition to all the technological and informational products, the CRCLCL also developed a low-carbon concrete that is being trialled by NSW Ports for costal protection, in what Professor Prasad said is a world-first.
City of Sydney is also trialling the material for roads.
One of the distinctive aspects of the CRCLCL was its public-facing approach. Research reached outside the academic and policy realms to directly address consumers.
“Our success has been measured by our impact, not by publications,” Professor Prasad said.
The evidence generated by its research can support better policy, and better government decisions around design and planning of the built environment, he said.
The Living Laboratories had a deliberate eye on transferring knowledge to consumers through showcasing the best available technologies and encouraging behaviour change.
“You have to have people on the journey,” Professor Prasad said.
Initiatives have seen some flow-on, such as the exemplar of Josh’s House informing Landcorp’s White Gum Valley development in Western Australia. The Victorian government has launched a strategy for mainstreaming low-carbon buildings.
The consumer-facing communications strategy to take learnings to communities included the production of videos, holding workshops around the country and hosting forums.
The overall CRC model is based on the idea of institutional collaboration, industry involvement and multi-disciplinary approaches. In this regard, the CRCLCL has been an exemplar of how this model can work to deliver tangible outcomes including new enterprises, new products and new jobs.
Taking a topic so broad, with the construction and property sector accounting for between 14 and 15 per cent of national GDP, meant the CRCLCL team has to work with “many, many” stakeholders, Professor Prasad said.
“We had to understand their needs and aspirations, and then do the research.”
This involved overcoming the essentially conservative nature of many players in the built environment.
“We had to convince the community to invest in the research.”
Now, for the next big challenge
The goal for the next CRC is to ensure we have “smart cities, thriving cities and resilient cities,” Professor Prasad said.
It will “take over the reins” from the CRCLCL program and generate products, systems, tools and industries to improve lives and sustainability performance.
But why regional cities?
“They all have their own challenges,” Professor Prasad said
There is also a gap between the level of amenity and opportunity in the capital cities and those of regional cities, which is one of the divers for migration into the capitals.
However, this migration is imposing pressure on the capital cities.
In working out solutions the team will use a multidisciplinary research approach that includes understanding the social and behavioural aspects of a topic to gain a better view of the economy and the environment.
“Industry has decided there is a need for research innovation,” Professor Prasad said. “[It] wants to take on the challenge of the complex problems of cities.”
He said industry recognises this generates opportunities for new businesses and can help make Australian enterprises more competitive globally.
“The CRCLCL provided Australia with a unique opportunity to gather important new evidence to help ensure more sustainable cities in the future,” Professor Prasad said.
“The next crucial step is for this evidence to be implemented through new policies and better building developments, so the journey has really only just begun.”