How a 6-star green building becomes its own teaching resource

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UNSW’s Tyree Energy Technologies Building (TETB) – the fourth 6 Star education facility in Australia and a first for UNSW.

Working and teaching in a six star, green rated, high performance building – the Tyree Energy Technology Building at UNSW Sydney – not only provides a sustainable, healthy space, but hard data, making it a great resource for researchers and academics.

The Tyree Energy Technology Building (TETB) was opened in 2012 and is an award-winning piece of architectural design and engineering. 

Currently, it is home to the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering as well as the School of Mineral and Energy Resources Engineering and other energy related research groups within UNSW, including the Low Carbon Living CRC.

The TETB was designed as a six-star Green Star building. It incorporates a 150 kW PV array as well as passive, sustainable design features and uses low carbon materials.

World-leading photovoltaic researchers, UNSW Professors Martin Green and the late Stuart Wenham, helped secure government funding for the building. Over 50 per cent of the world’s PV technology manufactured today was developed by these two, so their involvement was more than fitting. 

Trigeneration challenges

But, although the building is an excellent performer, it has also had its challenges. A key one – and learning experience – of the TETB has been its trigeneration system, which in 2010 was considered a useful sustainability feature.

The system consists of a natural gas engine and generator that can produce 800 kW of electricity and waste heat in winter which can be used for heating, and in summer used to run an absorption cooler. 

although the building is an excellent performer, it has also had its challenges

However, since it was commissioned in 2012, the energy landscape has changed. Today the high price of natural gas means that the system is now only operated on hot, peak demand days, to assist the energy management team at UNSW by reducing electricity imports as well as helping to cool the building in parallel with the conventional compression system. 

Peak demand at UNSW reaches 16 MW, so the gas generator can help by reducing this by about 5 per cent.

Another challenge with a complex building like the TETB is monitoring and metering it. With over 150 sub-meters on the electrical circuits, not all have been monitored as this would be costly and require large amounts of data storage – let alone the challenge of analysing such large data sets.

The 150 kW rooftop PV solar array that currently provides 1 per cent of UNSW’s energy.
Photograph courtesy of UNSW

Solar success

A major success story for the TETB has been the 150 kW rooftop PV solar array that currently provides 1 per cent of UNSW’s energy.

When the building was designed in 2010, PV was more expensive, but now the price has dropped dramatically and PV is now among the lowest cost of sustainability options for all new buildings. 

This dramatic cost reduction is one reason UNSW has purchased up to 124,000 MWh of PV generated electricity per annum from Origin Energy and the Maoneng’s Sunraysia Solar Farm near Balranald in South West NSW, currently under construction. 

This will make the campus run 100 per cent on renewable energy. 

Interestingly, this Power Purchase Arrangement came about due to a CRCLCL research project examining the barriers to purchasing 100 per cent off-site renewable power, with the UNSW Energy Management team collaborating with UNSW researchers Emily Mitchell, Anna Bruce and Iain MacGill.

Passive building design features

A useful passive design feature on the TETB was high performance double glazing. Overall, its improved envelope insulation and excellent shading means that the building demands much less energy on hot, peak demand days in comparison to other buildings on campus. 

In addition, the improved thermal envelope delivers energy savings all year round.

The TETB has some other clever design features, from unique louvres and blinds that help keep the building cool, a thermal labyrinth, and bore water for pre-heating and precooling fresh air coming into the building.

Plus, it makes use of geopolymer concrete, which used fly ash as part of the mix, providing a dense, lower carbon concrete which required far less energy than normal concrete. 

its improved envelope insulation and excellent shading means that the building demands much less energy on hot, peak demand days in comparison to other buildings on campus

Virtual tour

There’s also a new virtual TETB tour, where students and the public can visit parts of the building that are usually off limits to learn about TETB’s unique features.

The TETB not only houses our school but is also a living laboratory generating plenty of data for teaching and research. It is a showcase of what collaborative design can deliver.  

The building is also evidence that designers should be carefully considering photovoltaics – both on-site and off-site. In many instances PV is now the low hanging fruit for delivering on sustainable buildings.

Sustainable features that are as cost effective as PV should of course be included, but many are more expensive with slow return on investment. 

Other considerations – embodied energy, peak demand, and thermal comfort – will become increasingly important now that the carbon issue can increasingly be dealt with by photovoltaics. 

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