Smaller budgets are energising local government’s search for big savings.
Whether swapping to LED lighting or installing voltage power optimisation units (VPOs) in buildings, local councils are at the vanguard of Australia’s energy efficiency revolution.
With their limited resources councils have a good reason to take an innovative approach.
Brad Hawkins is the Energy and Engineering Manager of Forum Enviro, a division of Sydney company which deals with business efficiency in print, IT, fleet and energy.
Mr Hawkins explains that energy efficiency is a major concern for local councils, especially when they have energy guzzlers like swimming pools and leisure centres under their auspices.
“With so many buildings in their portfolios a lot of local councils have a pretty big energy spend. We’re starting to do more and more councils.”
Adelaide Council saved more than $30,000 and reduced its energy use by 158,268kwh when it installed VPO units in Adelaide Town Hall. City of Sydney has at least 14 VPO units in buildings including Customs House and the town hall to help meet its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent by 2030.
VPOs take a layer of voltage that isn’t required by the equipment in a building while ensuring the equipment – such as air conditioning, lighting or heating – can still function.
This cuts power bills and means equipment runs more efficiently. Extra voltage can mean more vibration and stress on motors so VPOs can also prolong equipment lifespan and reduce noise. Early and enthusiastic adopters have included supermarkets, pubs and clubs which have long hours of operation each week.
Energy efficient street lighting has become a cause celebre for local councils.
It’s an important area to address with street lighting typically accounting for 30 to 60 percent of local government’s greenhouse emissions.
The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) estimates that switching to LED street lighting is expected to save Australia’s local councils up to $87 million and prevent 720,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere each year.
Councils are leading the way installing LED lighting, primarily because it provides better direct illumination, lasts 20 years, has a low glare and uses less than one-third of the energy that traditional street lighting uses.
This has a combination of positive outcomes for local councils: lower energy and maintenance costs, fewer greenhouse emissions and better safety for drivers and pedestrians.
Not only will LEDs spark a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases as well as energy and maintenance costs, they are also expected to play a role in improving safety outcomes for drivers and pedestrians.
Expotrade, which is holding a conference on smart lighting in Melbourne in September, says that more than 60 Australian councils including Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart have rolled out or are in the process of completing bulk lighting changeovers.
Victoria is proving to be a beacon to smart lighting, where 16 local government bodies across North, West and Central Victoria are collaborating in the Lighting the Regions Project; which Expotrade says is “the largest street lighting partnership project” in Australia.
“Through education and engagement with regional people, this project aims to create more energy efficient and sustainable communities and is expected to pull together the expertise, resourcing and financial resources required to take energy efficiency to the next level,” says an Expotrade spokesperson.
The project aims to replace approximately 23,000 street lights across an area covering almost 45 per cent of Victoria.
Similar projects are happening in other states, such as the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils’ (SSROC) Street Lighting Improvement Program in NSW, the Ipswich Street Lighting Retrofit Project in QLD, the Hobart and Glenorchy Street Lighting Replacement Project in Tasmania.
States vote with their wallets
States are again investing real sustainability dollars after New South Wales’ Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts and Minister for the Environment Mark Speakman cut the ribbon on what has been hailed as the installation of the final solar panel at Australia’s largest solar project.
Located in the Western town of Nyngan, Mr Speakman is pushing the sunny-side-up success of a big venture from AGL, First Solar and the local community for their support of a 102 megawatt (MW) plant.
“The $290 million Nyngan solar plant is a major investment in renewable energy and demonstrates the NSW Government’s commitment to clean energy generation,” Mr Speakman said.
“This 250-hectare field contains 1.36 million solar panels and will provide enough clean electricity to power 33,000 NSW homes when fully operational.
Solar energy in many regional and remote areas is an increasingly viable alternative to traditional fuels that have to be trucked or pipe- in at considerable cost.
“The NSW Government is serious about supporting renewable energy, and has provided $65 million in funding for this project here in Nyngan and another 53MW solar plant under construction near Broken Hill, the second largest solar plant in Australia,” Mr Speakman said.
“Together, these solar plants will generate enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes across NSW.”
As traditional manufacturing increasingly goes into decline, communities and their businesses are looking to more contemporary industries like renewables that can cut costs for businesses and retain local employment and skills.
Mr Roberts said NSW was at the forefront of large scale solar and renewable energy.
“NSW is leading Australia in supporting the clean energy sector, which supports more than 13,000 jobs, contributes to lower energy costs and provides employment and investment in regional communities,” he said.
“The share of renewable energy in NSW’s electricity generation mix has almost doubled in the past five years with approximately 13 per cent of our energy generation coming from renewable sources in 2013.
“This project will set an example that will help drive further investment in large scale solar in regional NSW and across Australia.”
This story first appeared in Government News magazine June/July 2015.