The University Network

Australian University Unveils New Renewable Power System

The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Australia has completed construction on a new thermal energy storage system that promises to cut the university’s energy usage by 40 percent. 

The unique system, which is being dubbed the “water battery,” utilizes power drawn from over 6,000 newly-installed solar panels to chill a 4.5-megalitres tank of water. The water from this system will then be used to power air conditioners across USC’s main campus in Queensland, Australia.

The new solar panels, which now cover rooftops, parking lots and other structures across campus, will altogether produce 2.1 megawatts of photovoltaic energy. This energy is used to cool water stored in the three-story tank, which is effectively turned into a seven-megawatt battery. 

The system is bolstered by a real-time monitoring system that bases its energy source on weather and various other factors.

Air conditioning alone accounts for 40 percent of the campus’ daily energy usage. By transitioning to the new system, the university expects to power its entire air conditioning system with renewable energy.

The system, which was switched on for the first time Thursday, is the first of its kind. With its completion, USC becomes the first university in Australia to implement a thermal energy storage system that is powered by renewables.

The water battery is the result of a collaboration between the university and Veolia, a French transnational energy, water, and waste management company. Veolia installed the tank and panels at no cost to the university. 

As part of the agreement between Veolia and USC, Veolia will manage the system for 10 years. During this period, energy generated by the system be sold back to USC at a rate cheaper than electricity from the grid. After the10-year period, USC will gain full ownership of the system.

USC is expected to save $67 million on electricity costs over the 25-year lifespan of the system. 

But the real savings come in the form of environmental costs. The system is predicted to reduce the campus’ carbon dioxide output by more than 92,000 metric tons over 25 years. For comparison, that’s the same energy output of 525 Australian houses for the same period.

Leading the way in renewable energy

The completion of the water battery is only one of many sustainability initiatives currently being undertaken by USC. The university has plans to become fully carbon neutral by 2025, and has composed a multifaceted Carbon Management Plan to reach that goal. 

Other energy-reducing projects include: the installation of smart controls throughout campus buildings, which regulate air conditioning based on the amount of people it holds at any given time; the widespread installation of power factor correction to ensure the efficient use of electricity; and the use of variable speed controls on chilled water pumps, reducing electricity use in cooler months. 

Additionally, USC has invested in sustainable transport and an onsite compost processing system.

These investments have been a boon not only to the environment, but also to the university’s checkbook. Altogether, the projects have saved the university an estimated $1.25 million since 2012.

The university aspires to be a leader in sustainability and hopes that others take note of the success of its environmental programs. 

“For a regional university to be leading the way on this is proof that we don’t need to be in the big cities to be taking big strides in new ideas in renewables,” Greg Hill, USC’s vice-chancellor and president, said in a statement. 

“This technology has the potential to change the way energy is stored at scale and we are hoping other organizations take inspiration and indeed copy us. The team behind this is already sharing the technology with schools, universities, and companies around the world.”

USC also views its new system as an educational opportunity for its students and for outside organizations. 

“To me, this is an opportunity for our university to have a leadership role in sustainability for the entire region,” Hill said in the promotional video for the new system.