Brimbank council makes a splash with renewable aquatic centre

Heat pumps powered by solar will be used in the place of gas boilers.

Australia’s first zero emissions aquatic centre will be built by a suburban local council in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

The $60 million Brimbank Aquatic and Wellness Centre development will receive up to $1.53 million in ARENA funding to add renewable energy technologies to efficient building designs.

A high tech heat pump will heat water for pools, showers and regulate air temperatures, which paired with a heat recovery system, 88,000 litre above ground thermal storage “battery” and digital control system will provide an entirely electric alternative to the gas boilers commonly been used in the past.

A 500kW solar system and power purchase agreement will power the system with renewable energy around the clock, helping the new centre to achieve a six star “Green Star” energy rating.

The new facility is being built on the site of the former St Albans Leisure Centre that was demolished in mid-2020.

Sliding into the future

The project is led by the Brimbank City Council, which Mayor Ranka Rasic says is aiming to demonstrate that an aquatic centre can be powered entirely by electricity.

“We are thrilled that this state-of-the-art centre will showcase best practice in sustainable design – while delivering first class aquatic facilities and preventative health, education and social services, all under the one roof,” Mayor Rasic said.

The project is a step towards achieving Brimbank’s target of reaching net zero emissions for their operations by 2030.

In addition to state-of-the-art energy technologies, the centre will have water slides, a 50 metre competition pool, smaller pools for play and water programs, a sauna and steam room, spas and group fitness studios.

“We’ve designed this centre to be a place where community can exercise, be healthy and have fun while also accessing health and wellbeing support through co-located services,” she said.

Energy hungry

The nature of pools and leisure centres means these sites use large amounts of energy.

Water heaters often run for long periods to maintain stable temperatures, while energy intensive electric pumps are used to keep water clean and hygienic. Regulating air temperatures can also be a challenge in the damp, humid environments, while gyms and other parts of the complex have their own specific energy needs.

Brimbank renewable aquatic centre
An artists impression of the future Brimbank Aquatic and Wellness Centre. Image: Brimbank City Council

Heat pumps are well-suited to these low temperature applications, recovering energy from the atmosphere or other processes that produce heat as a byproduct.

The technology is highly efficient, with strong uptake in Scandinavia and other regions where cold climates create high demand for heating.

Announcing funding for the project, ARENA CEO Darren Miller said Brimbank’s work will help to build a case for heat pumps to be used more widely.

“Leisure and aquatic centres have traditionally been some of the most energy intensive buildings for local councils to manage,” he said.