UNSW paves the way for efficient houses
Solar panels may soon be a thing of the past thanks to the next-generation of carbon-positive building materials being used to develop efficient houses, as Deanna Hadid reports.
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Engineering is working closely with the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Low-Carbon Living to develop and test a range of ‘carbon positive’ products.
A prime example has been a photovoltaic/thermal system which, after being integrated in roofing panels, demonstrated that it is able to produce warm air up to 25 degrees Celsius throughout the Winter season.
Professor Deo Prasad, who heads the government-funded CRC and is part of the UNSW Built Environment faculty, says that many people are unaware of the carbon footprint of living in their own home.
“Many do not realise that buildings themselves are responsible for the release of carbon emissions,” Prof. Prasad said.
The built environment alone is responsible for 40 per cent of energy use and emissions aside from energy produced during the manufacture and removal of building materials. Australian households consume an average of 30 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day for heating in winter as well as other electrical loads. Typically, coal is burned to supply this electricity.
Associate Program Leader for CRC’s Integrated Building Systems, Dr Alistair Sproul says that the first step that should be taken in any house is to make it as efficient as possible.
“Instead of just putting solar cells on top of regular roofs, they are already integrated. By the time that the metal roofing is installed, it immediately starts to pay back its carbon debt by pumping power into the grid whilst providing warm air in the winter,” Dr Sproul.
The photovoltaic system delivers electricity and warm air in Winter, contributing to a large component of an efficient home’s energy requirements.
“We are also looking at what to do with the heat in summer but that is further down the track. At present, the heat would be simply vented during summer, although, the panels would be cooled so they produce more electricity; more than we use to run the fan!” he said.
In terms of costs, electricity prices rise at about 12 – 15 per cent per year, generally due to peak demand issues. The CRC hopes to deliver a more cost effective system.
“For an efficient home that consumes 6 – 8 kWh per day of electricity, a 2 kW solar system could cover that load and our system could provide waste heat as well in winter at approximately 20 kWh (thermal energy) per day on average. This would make a substantial difference to heating a home whilst lowering the heating costs for the household.” Prof. Sproul said.
The CRC plans to produce more green innovations, as well as design and planning solutions in order to help cut-down on carbon footprints.
The project, developed by the UNSW and CRC, will be run with Brookfield Multiplex. Brookfield Multiplex, as one of the CRC’s major industry partners, will work in conjunction with leading organisations and Australian researchers from several domestic and international institutions such as CSIRO, Swinburne University, Curtin University, University of South Australia and Melbourne University.
The collaboration of the organisations aim to develop new social, technological and policy tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment. The project will help prepare Australia for a zero-carbon building code, which will be introduced in the UK and Europe by 2016.
In a statement released on the Brookefield Multiplex website, Group General Manager for Sustainability and Safety Professor Dennis Else said: “Such research will not only provide the incentive to create and maintain materials and techniques to support the development of a low-carbon built environment, but will bring the tools into mainstream industry, empowering communities by making them aware of their low-carbon options.”
The products will be tested for effectiveness this year in ‘living laboratories’ located in Melbourne, Newcastle and Adelaide. Any changes will be incorporated in the design development.
Prof. Prasad says that the total completion of the project could take up to seven years but unless we have carbon-positive products, it will be difficult to have carbon-positive buildings.
“To engage tools, materials, technology and even the people, it is possible to cut carbon down to zero whilst releasing greener energy into the environment.”