If there are solar panels on the roof but no one knows about them, are they really there? Ask Green Infrastructure Project Manager Jonathan Prendergast and you’ll soon find the answer is a resounding “yes!”
While staff and students have been busily working inside UTS’s buildings, Prendergast and his teams have been working on top of them. Two years ago, he undertook a solar suitability study funded by the City of Sydney. Its purpose was to identify the best places to install solar panels on campus.
Since then, 736 panels have been installed on top of buildings 4, 11, the Yura Mudang student housing in building 6 and, most recently, the Aerial UTS Function Centre in building 10. It’s a move that’s seen UTS’s onsite renewable energy use jump 722 per cent since 2015.
But, Prendergast admits, “We're a bit limited at UTS because we have such energy-hungry buildings and such limited roof space. With on-site solar we can only get to about two per cent of our annual energy consumption.”
For Prendergast, that just means he’s had to be more creative. Already, UTS can lay claim to being the first Australian corporation to purchase energy from an off-site solar farm – we have two agreements with a 250 kilowatt farm in Singleton and a 60 kilowatt farm in Orange. The Singleton farm alone generates enough energy each year to power 15 per cent of the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building.
By March, Prendergast also hopes to get approval for and to develop a one megawatt-plus rooftop urban solar farm at Lord Street, Botany. The facility will be home to the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology’s lab and research facility which was previously located in the basement of building 2. Here, again, Prendergast’s work will be a first, presenting a whole new model for urban solar generation.
Put together, these solar energy innovations are set to propel UTS into second place for solar energy use among Australian universities. Prendergast says only the University of Queensland, which has ample land to build their own solar farms, will rank higher.
But, maybe not for long. UTS is currently “out to market” looking to procure power from a large-scale solar (or other renewable) farm that would be built in regional NSW. The aim is for that energy to fully off-set the electricity used by all the buildings in UTS’s Campus Masterplan – buildings 8, 11, 7, Alumni Green, UTS Central and the Library Retrieval System.
It could mean up to 50 per cent of our electricity use is off-set by renewable energy. And that doesn’t even include the local energy-sharing arrangement UTS has with Central Park.
Prendergast says, “We're supporting the transition to renewables, supporting the solar industry and reducing our environmental impact. And we’re also saving lots of money while we do it.
“It's not just technological improvements we need to make solar more efficient, but also new business models that enable greater deployment of solar.”