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Cleaning up on energy

A landmark regeneration project in Sydney demonstrates that economic performance can drive sustainable development

There are many aspects to Frasers Property Australia’s Central Park development in the Chippendale area of Sydney that make it stand out. From its energy efficient, five green star rated, internationally designed buildings, to a unique funding mechanism used to finance the energy source, the former brewery site is making headlines for a variety of reasons.

However, for environmental consultant WSP, which masterplanned the site and designed the energy efficient low carbon development, there is one aspect that sets it apart.

“The reason that it is a game changer is that there are individual ownership titles across the buildings laced together by a central thermal plant,” explains WSP Principal Gavin White. “Usually you might see these in developments such as hospitals where there is just an agreement between the hospital and a central thermal plant operator, but this is an agreement between the operator and a number of owners of buildings.”

Next generation

Next generation: The Jenbacher 1.1MWe, 11kV Co-Generation gas engine is lifted into position at Central Park

The 20MW central thermal plant with 6MW tri-generation uses natural gas engines to produce thermal and electrical energy, which in turn provides electricity, heating, hot water and air conditioning and domestic hot water to the 14 buildings over the 100,000m2 first phase of the 255,000m2 development.

“It is nice to work on a project which is economically sustainable and very sustainable in its outcomes”

Gavin White, WSP

“With a central thermal plant (CTP) you take all of the chillers out of the buildings so we are going from 31 chillers down to seven and the seven chillers are 20% more efficient,” says White.

“This saves capital cost and space.” WSP of course considered a range of options for energy provision, beginning with evaluating the site’s requirements for electricity, hot water and cooling water throughout the lifetime of the project. This model was then used to simulate a range of sustainable technologies from the central thermal plant from tri-generation, thermal storage, solar tubes, photovoltaics to biomass.

The analysis showed that tri-generation was by far and away the most cost effective way to reduce carbon with biomass being the closest contender. By putting the economics at the heart of the process, the team developed a solution that meets all tenets of sustainable development.

“Sustainable means that it is repeatable and repeatable means that it has to have an economic outcome. Too often we have been chasing a sustainability outcome to reduce carbon, but really we should be saying ‘it is cheaper if we reduce carbon’. If you can buy the same thing for 12p or 8p you buy it for 8p, and if the 8p thing has less carbon associated with it then all the better,” he says.

For Sydney projects like this are critical. The city has set itself a hugely ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 against 2006 levels. According to WSP the use of a CTP with tri-generation at the Central Park project will save 190,000t of CO2 against traditional systems over its 25-year design life. Other regeneration projects that WSP is involved with such as the Barangaroo development along the Sydney Harbour and the Sydney International Conference Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct will similarly seek to minimise their carbon footprints.

One financial initiative that is supporting the use of energy efficient solutions is the environmental upgrade fund, from which the Central Park development is receiving AUS$26.5M (£18.3M) to finance the central thermal and tri-generation infrastructure.

The fund works by lending the capital cost required and collecting the repayments through the rate system of the local council, an arrangement referred to as the environmental upgrade agreement (EUA).

“When you then incorporate the EUA saving it makes a good economic proposal even better,” says White, who stresses that truly sustainable projects should “stack-up” even without government support.

He says for some firms this means taking a new approach to sustainable design.

“As an engineer I have found that with these precinct projects we are using economics first and we use engineering to reinforce the economics. It is nice to work on a project which is economically sustainable and very sustainable in its outcomes - the gravy on top is adding the EUA component,” White adds.

Other sustainable measures include a recycled water network that has a membrane bioreactor (MBR) plant in the basement of one of the residential buildings.

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