Beneath the road, under the hustle and bustle of Broadway, runs a network of pipes at the forefront of sustainable engineering. The thermal pipes connect UTS to the Brookfield Central Energy Plant at Central Park, and they form the bones of Australia’s first district energy-sharing project.
Quite simply, says UTS Green Infrastructure Project Manager Jonathan Prendergast, the collaboration is logical. “Installing new cooling infrastructure is expensive in terms of capital cost and space at the UTS campus is at a premium.
“Also, for the new buildings that make up UTS’s $1.3 billion Campus Master Plan, wouldn't it be great if they didn't have cooling towers on the roof and could have something else interesting, like a garden, up there instead?”
Currently heating, cooling and ventilation represent 62 per cent of the university’s total electricity use. District energy agreements work by tapping into the unused capacity of a large plant, like the Brookfield Central Energy Plant which has two highly efficient tri-generation engines powering their chilling supply. Central Park also has a water-recycling plant onsite reducing potable water use for toilet cisterns, irrigation and cooling towers.
At UTS, peak chilling demand is on weekdays during teaching sessions at around 3pm. At the residential Central Park, it’s summer holidays, evenings and weekends, making the buildings ideal energy-sharing candidates.
Prendergast began looking into the partnership five years ago as part of a research project with Central Park. (He’s not the only UTS staff member working with Central Park – the Institute for Sustainable Futures has also been involved in the development of Central Park’s sustainability strategy.)
This energy-sharing partnership, however, will see UTS’s greenhouse gas emissions reduce by around three per cent or 1111 tonnes per annum.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Resources) Patrick Woods says, “We are constantly looking at ways we can reduce waste and our environmental footprint and the district cooling project is just one example of our commitment in this area.”
Prendergast was an instrumental part of the first-ever precinct system in Dandenong, Melbourne, supplying over 20 proposed buildings with heating and electricity from one central plant. In North America and Europe, district systems are more common. Chicago, for example, has four plants supplying chilling/thermal energy to over 100 buildings in the CBD.
UTS is the first customer in Australia to sign a truly district agreement though, which could service other buildings in Ultimo and Broadway in the future.
Prendergast says, “By seeing this through and making it happen, it means other organisations that are considering similar things may be more encouraged to do them as well. It also builds capability in the market – people can see how these things work, understand them and do them even better next time”.
And, he adds, the 15-year cooling contract is just the beginning of a relationship between the two precincts – UTS is also currently investigating a range of other possibilities like sourcing some of its water supply from Central Park’s water recycling facility
Implementation of the energy-sharing project will roll out alongside the construction of Building 2 and be fully operational within two years.