Solar is moving out of the suburbs and into the commercial building sector with the promise of big cuts to HVACR costs. CCN profiles the world-first projects that are taking solar technology to the next level.

It is common knowledge that around 60 per cent of the energy used by Australia’s commercial property sector is directed to heating, ventilation and air conditioning, which is why solar technology is attracting so much attention.

A solar-powered commercial air conditioning system, developed with $520,000 of Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) support, could be a potential solution to this energy efficiency problem as the pilot is successfully integrated into an operational commercial building for the first time.

Jointly managed by CSIRO with Stockland Group and NEP Solar, the $1.2 million three-year pilot project, operating at the Stockland Wendouree Shopping Centre in Ballarat, Victoria, reached its final milestone last month after seven months of operation at the site.

The system uses concentrating solar thermal technology to produce heat energy –150ºC to 200ºC – that is then used to power the air conditioning system at the shopping centre.

The system adjusts the amounts of heating and cooling generated to match the needs of the building supplying space heating in winter and space cooling in summer all year round.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said ARENA is pleased to have partnered with CSIRO on this novel world-first technology.

“It is a step toward further improving the efficiency of solar thermal energy systems and storage to provide clean and reliable heating and cooling in Australia’s commercial buildings,” he said.

He said the CSIRO system addresses high energy consumption rates often found in large commercial spaces such as shopping centres and hotels due to their heating and cooling energy requirements.

It uses a closed-loop system, with two ‘desiccant’ wheels that work together to remove moisture from the air, acting as a dehumidifier.

A high temperature wheel uses solar heat for regeneration while the low temperature wheel functions without any external heat to deliver greater efficiency on a commercial scale.

Like any new and innovative technology moving along the innovation chain, there have been significant challenges deploying this system on a commercial scale. If these challenges can be overcome, the technology could have potential to help increase the energy efficiency of heating and cooling commercial buildings.

CSIRO, along with its partners, will continue monitoring the operation of this pilot system over the next 12 months to establish the long-term commercial viability of the design.

In another major development for South Australia, Hydro Tasmania has been engaged by Energy Developments Limited (EDL) to help transform Coober Pedy into a renewable energy township.

The Coober Pedy Renewable Diesel Hybrid project has been made possible by an $18.4 million grant from ARENA to EDL.
Once Hydro Tasmania’s world-leading technology is in place, the opal mining town of about 3,500 people will draw an average 70 per cent of its energy from solar and wind. The town will eventually be completely powered by renewable energy.

The Coober Pedy project will use the technologies developed and proven by Hydro Tasmania in its successful ARENA-supported King Island Renewable Energy Integration project, which has reduced the Bass Strait Island’s annual diesel consumption by 60 per cent on average.

In addition to successes on King Island, the technology is being rolled out at ARENA supported projects on Flinders and Rottnest Islands.

The Coober Pedy project is a prime example of Australia’s world-leading expertise in devising renewable micro-grid solutions with strong commercial potential.

Combining wind, solar, battery storage and smart control systems could provide a blueprint for off-grid communities to access cleaner and cheaper power and achieve energy independence by greatly reducing their reliance on trucked-in diesel.

Finally, a $1.2 billion solar storage power station is being built in Port Augusta, South Australia. The plant has been proposed by renewables company Solastor. The company plans to use concave mirrors that focus sunlight onto a 10 tonne receiver made of graphite, which is heated to 800ºC. The heat is then used to create steam to power a 110 megawatt generator.

The company is seeking funding support from the Federal Government’s $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund, ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Solarstor’s project has the potential to make Port Augusta a world leader in the deployment of large scale solar energy.

He said 300 people will be employed on-site and 300 off-site during the construction phase, and over 100 staff will be employed to operate the facility.


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