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    Smart buildings overcoming Australia’s energy crisis through technology and design

    Tijana Trifunovich

    Australia is facing its biggest energy crisis to date. With four of the country’s coal-fired power plants closed due to ageing infrastructure and a wealth of natural gas locked into export contracts for years to come, it’s no surprise that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2018 identified energy as Australia’s biggest problem.

    If Australia is to be carbon neutral by 2020, the energy infrastructure will have to change, shifting to what economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin calls the Third Industrial Revolution.

    Like the first and second Industrial Revolutions, this third wave will change the way our buildings use energy.

    However unlike the previous industrial revolutions, this energy won’t rely on a single source, but rather harvest the various renewable resources at their disposal to fuel activity.

    Melbourne’s streets proudly boast the facades of this future. Structures like the Pixel Building sparked the movement towards self-sustaining, carbon neutral commercial buildings. Cleverly designed, trendy modern  structures are now competing to out-green each other; from indoor plants and green walls to high-tech energy and waste management systems and the use of pre-fabricated and recycled components.

    Pixel is one example of smart buildings embracing the sustainable revolution, and while its high-tech  design is itself a statement of Melbourne’s forward-thinking culture, the real challenge lies in applying this mindset to the city’s residential housing crisis.

    The past few years have seen major growth in high and low rise apartment buildings in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Mainly built for profit rather than sustainability, these buildings rarely consider environmental impact.

    There are a few exceptions, however. The award-winning The Commons is applying sustainable techniques, and tackling Melbourne’s housing crisis at the same time. Medium-rise apartments outfitted with rooftop solar panels and designed to minimise energy usage, The Commons’ self-sustaining community design is being replicated throughout Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

    Community solar panels like those at The Commons are increasingly appearing on apartment and residential rooftops. Their energy generation is potential decentralised electricity supply that could inject much needed power into the existing infrastructure.

    Many economical and sustainability conscious home owners and architects are adding solar panels to their own rooftops to lower electricity bills and reduce their ecological footprint. By combining their solar supply with an innovative technological solution, their investment could go the extra mile, and help inject much needed electricity into the existing infrastructure.

    StarCluster, a Melbourne-based startup dedicated to optimising electricity supply for households has created a technology platform that addresses Australia’s high household electricity costs, and its unstable energy supply.

    The platform is working with communities to bring local energy supply from rooftops and larger sources to deliver sustainable electricity to conscientious consumers.

    It’s undeniable that technology will be an integral component within the buildings of tomorrow. Current trends may showcase glamourous gadgetry, but in the long run, smart homes are heading towards a future that aims to sustain the environment for generations to come.

    These smart homes will be buildings that minimise their energy usage and maximise renewable energy generation as a connected system that is not only wired within each home, but within the infrastructure of the city it belongs to.

    Only then will we have averted Australia’s energy crisis and joined the Third Industrial Revolution, a new era where technology and ecology entwine to form a truly sustainable world.

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