When Dr Rocio Bona, planning director, properties, facilities & development at Curtin University was tasked with developing an energy management plan for the university, she asked the obvious question, “I asked who and what are the greatest consumers of electricity.”
The answer was blank faces and an obvious first step in the project, “because you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” she says.
Part of the strategy to attract the best staff and students
The initiative to use resources more efficiently is part of the university’s overall drive to improve the appeal of the campus – to attract the best staff and students.
“We see more and more students and staff demanding that organisations operate as good corporate citizens and actively help tackle climate change.
“Similarly, industry partners are interested in pursuing projects with like-minded institutions. The university has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership in sustainability,” Bona says.
It all starts with measurement
There are now more than 1000 meters and sensors across the campus, with their outputs aggregated on Living Campus.
This is an easy-to-use web-based platform that also takes inputs from AEMO and the Bureau of Meteorology networks to provide a holistic view of the campus, its power consumption and its power generation.
The initiatives behind Living Campus have produced year-on-year reductions in peak demand electricity since 2012, Bona says.
“We started by installing sub-metering on every building across the campus. I thought, if I need to manage this then I need to access the information without going backwards and forwards through all the building management systems.
“We knew we wanted to capture the data in a central platform, so we investigated options. We found a provider that really listened to what we were looking for in terms of visualisation and put in important elements to drive engagement and support discussions – to get the organisation to actively participate and be involved in what goes into the platform.”
The Living Campus platform was launched in 2018.
More than just a visualisation tool
In addition to the nice-to-have function of making data visible to the users of the buildings, the platform supports important research and education functions.
It is part of a greater vision to link technology and sustainability with Curtin’s core business of learning, teaching and research.
Kylie Chrystal, officer, properties, facilities and development for Curtin says that Living Campus has huge benefits.
“It invites teaching and research staff to use our Perth Campus as a large scale living lab, both enabling in-depth investigation of the effects of current management practices and inviting teaching and research to identify and implement new opportunities on campus, and see how these changes play out in real time,” Chrystal says.
Delivering goals and stirring interest across campus and other universities
In the relatively short time that the platform has been active, it is already delivering on its objectives.
Bona says lecturers are using it to inform their coursework. “It’s been a real eye-opener to track consumption so closely and see the scale of the impact,” she says.
“We have had an incredibly positive response from students, academics, industry and other universities. They have been interested not only in the technology itself, but in the collaboration process that led to its creation, and the use of the data as a tool for learning, teaching and research.”
Changes include modifying the discharge profile of a four million litre thermal storage tank which forms part of Curtin’s centralised heating and cooling system. The thermal storage tank is used to reduce the demand on the electrical network at peak times.
First the central energy control system had to be upgraded – that happened in 2017. Optimising the tank’s performance was the next logical step.
“The response was lagging. Now we can see its performance right away, we were able to bring it online when we needed it. We can optimise the discharge pattern to support the other systems better.”
But some of the greatest benefits came in the early stages of the project and were the results of the simplest changes.
“We focused on reducing power consumption first – the low hanging fruit – before we looked at more sophisticated things like renewables,” Bona says.
A simple change of lighting made a significant difference
In the TL Robertson library, a simple change of lighting made a significant difference.
“We knew instinctively that we needed to do it, and we could model the impact of the change on paper. The thermal load of the old lights was a big issue, and we could manually calculate the power reduction. But the platform has allowed us to confirm that it is the right approach,” Bona says.
The changes in the library produced a two-thirds reduction in electricity consumption, despite the library moving to a 24-hour opening schedule. That’s the equivalent of installing 10,000 square metres of photovoltaic panels.
The program will now be supplemented with solar generated electricity as part of the next phase of the library refurbishment.
Living Campus is designed to bring these good news stories to the forefront and push staff, students and researchers to consider alternative management strategies.
A series of case studies illustrate the benefit of current energy saving initiatives, which are often hidden in the background of large construction and facility upgrade projects.
Overall, Living Campus is considered a great success, Bona says. It was awarded the Curtin University VC’s Excellence Award for Professional Staff in 2018 and Bona says that The Green Building Council of Australia commended Curtin University for the development of the Living Campus platform, as an exemplar of innovation and leadership in the tertiary sector.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of the university’s success is not these accolades, nor the Green Star Communities certification for the Greater Curtin Master Plan, but the simple fact that total electricity consumption is shrinking while the university is growing.
Click through to the Living Campus website to see different power sources and power users and to drill-down from a whole-of-university view to what is happening at a micro level.