Ensuring that buildings are as energy efficient as possible is an important consideration in a climate where electricity costs are rising and our environment is under constant strain.
Those responsible for designing such buildings are now seeking ways to do this, without compromising on style and curb appeal in the process.
Luckily, innovation in this area is constantly growing, with fresh eco-friendly solutions ranging from smart metering and solar energy to the very latest in battery technology.
Energy storage specialists Redflow, for example, produce small 10kWh zinc-bromine flow batteries that can store renewable energy.
Marketed as ZCell and ZBM2, Redflow batteries are designed for high cycle-rate, long time-base stationary energy storage in the residential, commercial and industrial and telecommunications sectors.
Previously, flow batteries were relatively large in size but Redflow changed the game by designing a small, modular, flow batteries based on zinc-bromine reactant. This means the batteries can be used in spaces previously considered too small for flow batteries.
A handy feature of these batteries is that they are scalable from a single battery installation through to grid-scale deployments.
A great example of the flow batteries in use can be seen at Knox Children and Family Centres at Wantirna South and Bayswater in outer eastern Melbourne.
These two state-of-the-art children and family centres have eliminated an incredible three-quarters of their energy costs during winter through smart insulation and solar panels combined with Redflow batteries.
The two seperate Knox Children and Family Centres each have 100 kilowatts peak (kWp) of photovoltaic solar panels and 18 Redflow ZBM2 batteries, storing as much as 180 kilowatt-hours of energy.
On top of this, the centres have incorporated innovative insulation and thermal sealing to retain heat in winter and cooling in summer.
The performance of the integrated solar panel and battery systems in their first months exceeded council’s expectations, generating 75 percent of the power requirements for both of the hubs during winter.
The installation of the solar array and batteries is predicted to save Council between $110,000 and $120,000 per annum at each centre, delivering an impressive total annual saving of $220,000 and $240,000.
By saving up to $240,000 each year, the council expects to achieve a payback period of about five years on the solar arrays and ZBM2 batteries at the two new centres.
The increasing cost of electricity made energy efficiency a priority for the two centres. Council selected zinc-bromine flow batteries to provide energy storage for the two new Children and Family Centres because of their potential for a longer life cycle and their ability to discharge all energy on a regular basis without affecting the storage capacity or longevity of the batteries themselves.
As well as retaining the original 10kWh energy storage capacity throughout their operating life, other benefits of zinc-bromine flow batteries include a reduced fire risk compared to other battery chemistries and components that are easy to recycle or reuse at the battery’s end-of-life.
Another customer praising Redflow’s ZBM2 batteries is Australian architecture firm Williams Burton Leopardi which used the batteries to guarantee energy supply for its newly renovated heritage-listed Darling Building in central Adelaide.
After Williams Burton Leopardi bought the derelict 1916 Darling Building that had been largely neglected since the 1960s, they learned that the planned peak energy demand for the renovated building would require more electricity than the local power grid could supply.
The peak power draw during summer was calculated at 290 Amps – whereas SA Power Networks could supply only 200 Amps.
Williams Burton Leopardi director David Burton says many solutions were so expensive they would have made the renovated building commercially unviable.
“We didn’t have the space in the building for a transformer; gas would cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars and ‘winging it’ was not an option,” he says.
A scalable energy storage system based on Redflow batteries was the ideal solution.
They now have six of Redflow’s zinc-bromine ZBM2 flow batteries but can scale the system to 12 or even 18 batteries if they require them.
“The main purpose of the system is to ensure that the batteries can supply energy if the building’s demand outstrips the grid’s supply capacity, so it is primarily a peak management methodology,” he explained.
“But they are also configured to buy power at low demand times to recharge the batteries and when power spikes past a certain price, they dribble energy into the load to manage that spike down.”
The award-winning five-storey renovated Darling Building on Franklin Street now has new lighting, air conditioning systems, kitchen facilities and washing machines and dryers on each floor, as well as a fully-rebuilt heritage-listed elevator.
Redflow partner Solar Depot installed the batteries with three 7.5kW Selectronic SP Pro inverters, delivering three-phase power from the building’s basement.
Burton says Redflow batteries were uniquely suited for the building’s needs.
“For what we want to do, zinc-bromine batteries are ideal,” he says.
“They can deep cycle without damaging the battery and they embody the concept of simplicity and look quite nice in their rows”.
“Lithium-ion batteries would’ve cost us a lot more to completely fire-rate the room because lithium is like putting a bomb in your basement. With the Redflow batteries, we just open the windows and a fan circulates the air.”
Burton described the Redflow-based energy system as an “exciting opportunity” for other building projects.
“One battery system could support several buildings,” he says.
Another company helping clients to gain control of their rising power costs is Maximum Energy, a business dedicated to accessing the latest energy saving technology on the market.
Their goal is to “assess, design and implement the most cost-effective pathway to lower grid supplied energy”.
They do this through new energy solutions such as solar, batteries, LED lighting and smart control systems.
One of their recent clients was Western Hospital in Henley Beach South Australia.
The hospital had noticed a significant increase in energy costs which needed to be addressed.
“They wanted to reduce their green footprint so we dived into their assets to see how we could help,” Maximum Energy’s director Jed Durdin says.
Solutions included a LED light upgrade for the entire hospital which consisted of over 1200 new lights.
This was an effective solution as lighting accounts for a big portion of daily energy consumption, especially in a hospital where the lights need to run 24/7.
Maximum Energy’s LED lights consume less energy with a higher output. LEDs are replacing expensive fluorescent light bulbs and are an incredible 90 percent more efficient over a longer working life. On top of this, the hospital also had a 340kW solar system installed. The projects are estimated to save the hospital over $100,000 per annum in energy costs and have a significant impact on the environment in the process.
Another client Maximum Energy was able to help in slashing their energy costs was Christian Brothers College set across three campuses in Adelaide, South Australia.
The college was looking to improve sustainability and their reduce energy costs. They had many ideas and plans, but nothing significant had been implemented.
The college was in early stages of building their new Centre of Innovation and Learning with an eye catching, futuristic design.
The school decided to complement the “fantastic structure” with a state-of-the art solar power system.They installed a 10kW system, making the centre highly energy efficient and cost-effective to run.
While cost saving was one important factor, the college noted that the installation was also about sustainability and providing educational outcomes for students.
“There’s now a concept called “energy in education” and it’s all about using new technologies to help educate the next generation,” Maximum Energy’s director Jed Durdin explains.
More smart energy swaps included replacing the old lighting in the gym with energy efficient LED lighting installed a 30kW system in the Junior School and a 90kW system in the Senior School.
Now Christian Brothers College has a total of 130kW ready to make the most of the long summer days.
Maximum Energy’s Director Jed Durdin noted there has truly been a change of mindset around the importance of renewable energy in recent times.
“It even changes the way that buildings are designed and built these days,” he says.
“We talk to architects about simplifying the roofs by not adding in as many cuts and edges so we can build more efficient solar systems.”
This helps the solar panels work more efficiently in terms of the amount of sun hours they can get and ensures easier ongoing maintenance of the solar panels.
“People haven’t been thinking about sustainability and efficiently previously but it’s really at the forefront now,” Jed says.
“The market has matured in terms of acceptance”.
“Technology is getting smarter and you really need to understand the assets of your business to see how you control your energy and percure your energy”.
Image: Knox Children and Family Centres at Wantirna South / Supplied