Reducing the HVAC&R carbon footprint

By Amy Steed
Wednesday, 12 February, 2020

Reducing the HVAC&R carbon footprint

The Australian HVAC&R industry is a huge consumer of energy, with air conditioning and refrigeration alone accounting for 22% of the nation’s entire electricity usage.

The industry is also responsible for around 50% of peak demand on the electricity grid, according to figures from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

In an effort to lower these numbers, a new initiative led by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) is aiming to help the industry transition to a low-emissions future.

Known as the Affordable Heating and Cooling Innovation Hub (i-Hub), the three-year project is designed to support energy transformation within the HVAC&R sector. It has a budget of $18 million, including cash and in-kind contributions of nearly $12 million from the participating institutions — CSIRO, Queensland University of Technology, the University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong. ARENA has also provided $6.5 million in funding for the initiative.

The Australian HVAC&R industry is a large one. It consists of approximately 17,000 people, employed in more than 20,000 Australian businesses, which contribute 1.7% of GDP. i-Hub brings together leading businesses and institutions to develop an integrated approach to solving issues affecting the industry.

AIRAH will distribute funding to support a series of projects that demonstrate how renewable energy technology can be optimally integrated with HVAC&R equipment. It will also engage with a range of industry stakeholders to trial renewable energy technologies and illustrate how heating and cooling can be coordinated and controlled to provide demand response.

“The HVAC&R sector is a key focus for decarbonising the built environment. The sector provides a substantial and largely untapped opportunity for enhanced demand response, load flexibility, renewable energy uptake and integration of various technologies,” said ARENA CEO Darren Miller.

i-Hub is open to applications from industry participants who have suitable demonstration projects that require co-funding. It will develop capability for the HVAC&R industry to continue to innovate, beyond the project’s three-year lifespan, by considering proposals under one of three activity streams.

Living laboratories

These will be spaces and buildings that facilitate the testing of innovative products and services — both from energy and user-experience perspectives. The ‘living laboratories’ will enable owners, suppliers, users and researchers to collaborate, create and reflect on alternative solutions for affordable heating and cooling.

Integrated design studios

This initiative aims to involve HVAC&R engineers right from the beginning of the building design process, because early collaboration between architects, HVAC engineers and other stakeholders is more effective in terms of delivering major cost and energy savings. The i-Hub Integrated Design Studios activity is largely focused on:

  • increasing innovation at the conceptual design stage
  • developing an evidence base of new zero energy buildings concepts
  • supporting knowledge development of the next generation of building professionals
  • influencing cultural practices across the design industry.

Buildings to grid data clearing house

Properly managing energy use and improving building operations requires access to accurate and detailed building data. However, such access to this data can be limited by a lack of open standards and trusted processes for the sharing of diverse data sets. One of i-Hub’s goals is to curate the Australian Smart Buildings Data Clearing House, a single location for accessing a wide range of energy and building data. This will help to increase the quality and value of data sets, as well as empower Australian businesses to develop new data analytics services. The data will be implemented by building owners and property managers to save energy, improve efficiencies and reduce costs. It will also provide evidence to assist in decision-making and inform policy.

The i-Hub will focus on a series of projects in the area of healthcare, education and data centre sectors that have the potential to deliver hundreds of megawatts of demand response — from the i-Hub project’s building owner participants — at a fraction of the cost of other approaches.

“The objective of i-Hub is to support the broader HVAC&R industry with knowledge dissemination, skills development and capacity building. By facilitating a collaborative approach to innovation, i-Hub brings together leading universities, researchers, consultants, building owners and equipment manufacturers to create a connected research and development community in Australia,” said AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson.

“The i-Hub project brings a uniquely concerted effort from the HVAC&R and property industries to use the design and operation of air-conditioning services as a tool for supporting onsite and local grid renewables.

“Through the deferral of HVAC&R loads — during renewable energy supply shortages — and the use of HVAC&R loads as a ‘productive source of demand’ during periods of excess supply, this project will increase the value of onsite renewable energy production and increase the fraction of building energy that can be economically provided by onsite renewable energy.

“With rising electricity costs putting further pressure on consumers and businesses, the i-Hub vision is to help make a positive impact by supporting Australian innovation. This will deliver superior comfort, better energy efficiency (and therefore lower running costs) and minimise peak demand.”

In total, this project will deliver a multidimensional pilot demonstration program and business case evaluation for guiding National Electricity Market (NEM) planners on where to find and how to implement HVAC&R demand response across the National Electricity Market, and unlocking hundreds of megawatts of previously untapped flexible load.

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