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Sunshine Coast University (USC) will today unveil plans for a giant “water battery” run by solar panels in a bid to become carbon neutral by 2025.

Project partner Veolia will build, install and operate 5,800 rooftop solar panels and a 4.5 megalitre water storage tank at USC’s main campus at Sippy Downs to cool water for air conditioning.

It is expected to save more than 92 thousand tonnes of CO2 emissions over 25 years, equivalent to the carbon emissions of 525 average Australian houses for the same period.

Veolia will build the panels and tank at no cost to the university, operate and maintain the infrastructure for 10 years, selling the energy generated back to the university at a rate cheaper than electricity from the grid. After this time, ownership of the infrastructure will transfer to USC.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill said the project was a major step towards the university’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2025, and was expected to be operational by early 2019.

“The tank is essentially a giant water battery,” Professor Hill said. “Sixty percent of our energy is used for chilling water for air conditioning, so our Asset Management Services team and Veolia have come up with a way we can harness solar energy for cooling water and storing it."

The 2.1 megawatt photovoltaic system, with panels spread across campus rooftops and carpark structures, will produce enough energy to cool 4.5 megalitres of water, effectively acting as a seven-megawatt battery.

“This will reduce the campus’s grid electricity use by 36 per cent and will lead to an estimated $100 million saving over the 25-year life of the project,” Professor Hill said.

“We will use environmentally friendly refrigerant gas, and campus lake water for the air conditioning cooling towers, resulting in a saving of 802 megalitres of potable water.”

Also included in the project will be an automated system that will select and switch to the most appropriate energy source at any given time, whether that is stored chilled water, solar energy or electricity from the grid.

“On cloudy days when the solar isn’t operating at peak, the system will use grid electricity at night-time when electricity rates are lower,” Professor Hill said.

“The system will react to changing conditions on campus and select the best source of energy to minimise energy use, carbon emissions and cost.”

Professor Hill said the project will be used to teach engineering and sustainability students.

“This is proof that we’re an innovative university leading the way on sustainability initiatives, and we’re using the newest technology to inform the engineers of the future.”

Veolia ANZ general manager for energy and refractories, Grant Winn, said the company is excited about working with USC on such an innovative sustainability project.

USC is also developing plans for carbon saving measures at its other campuses across the region.

 

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