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Answer to sustainable heating and cooling beneath our feet?

Warmer than the winter air and cooler during summer, an innovative project is embracing the consistent subterranean temperatures to heat and cool hundreds of homes in a new Western Sydney estate.

In the first application of the technology across a housing estate, the Fairwater development is installing geothermal heat pumps in 800 premises across the new mini suburb.

The technology underpinning the system isn’t new. In use since the 1940s, heat is exchanged between the surface and earth via a refrigerant solution piped through copper tubes that loop underground.

Prior to each house being built at Fairwater, a large drill is brought in to excavate a hole up to 90 metres deep. The copper piping is added later, along with connections to individual pumps that exchange heat between the ground and each home.

With temperatures beneath the surface in Western Sydney hovering in the low 20s all year round, the ground heat pumps can cool hot homes during summer and also provide heating when average daytime temperatures drop to the low teens in winter.

Able to deliver energy savings of as much as 60 per cent, ARENA has provided $500,000 for Climate-KIC to lead a three year study to assess the project and build an evidence base for a large-scale deployment of the technology in new developments.

The project team will include Fairwater developer Fraser Property Australia, Curtin University, University of Technology Sydney, Wattwatchers and the Green Building Council of Australia.

ARENA is providing funding under its investment priority to improve energy productivity with renewable energy.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project will deliver a real-world demonstration of the potential of for geothermal energy to heat and cool households.

“If the project is successful it will help the property development industry to better understand and market the system, potentially seeing further housing developments implement the renewable technology,” Miller said.

“Adding ground-sourced thermal energy to new housing estates will help reduce energy consumption and cost as well as benefiting the network by lowering peak demand and the associated need to invest in expensive infrastructure.” he said.

While each system adds between $3000 to $5000 to the purchase price of each property, dramatic reductions to operating costs will recoup the upfront investment within five years, according to the Fraser Property Australia who are leading the development.

Anthony Boyd, an Executive General Manager at Frasers Property Australia says the research will provide important data for the industry to deploy geothermal technology effectively in communities of the future.

“It’s the type of study that will help accelerate the pace of change the Australian property industry must embrace if, as a country, we are to meet our international climate change obligations,” Boyd said.

For Climate-KIC Australia CEO Christopher Lee, the Fairwater Project represents a unique opportunity to measure, evaluate and understand new technologies.

“The research will deliver a better understanding of the opportunities and barriers for wider adoption of the innovative geothermal heat pumps and other sustainable design features included at Fairwater,” Lee said.

“Working with a proactive property developer, leading researchers, start-ups and industry bodies allows us to bring a broad range of skills to a complex project,” he said.

The project is employing the ‘living laboratories’ concept of using existing buildings to evaluate performance of energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives.

Renewable geothermal heat pumps trialled at Blacktown greenfield estate

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has today announced $500,000 in funding to Climate-KIC Australia to lead a three-year longitudinal study into the benefits of geothermal energy in the residential sector and greenfield estates.

The $1.7 million project will study a commercial-scale demonstration of renewable ground-source heat pumps being deployed in the Fairwater master-planned residential community in Blacktown, Western Sydney.

Climate-KIC will lead the project team comprising University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Curtin University, Wattwatchers and the Green Building Council of Australia, with $180,000 each of funding as well as in-kind support over three years from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and the developer of Fairwater, Frasers Property Australia.

If successful, the project will pave the way by establishing a business case for industry-wide adoption of ground-source heat pumps within local, renewable and efficient energy systems.

Geothermal heat pump systems will supply heating and cooling to each of the over 800 new dwellings in the Fairwater precinct.

The project is based on the living laboratories concept of using existing buildings to evaluate performance of energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project would demonstrate the potential of using geothermal energy to power households.

“Ground sourced thermal energy being installed in new housing estates could reduce energy consumption and cost as well as benefiting the network by lowering peak demand and the associated need to invest in expensive infrastructure,” Mr Miller said.

“If successful, this study could help demonstrate the value of geothermal energy to greenfield developers, potentially seeing further housing developments implement this renewable technology,” he said.

Frasers Property Australia Executive General Manager – Residential Anthony Boyd said Frasers were always looking at opportunities to invest in smart sustainable technology that benefits its customers and the environment.

“This real-world research will provide important data for the industry to optimise the deployment of geothermal technology in communities of the future. It’s the type of study that will help accelerate the pace of change the Australian property industry must embrace if, as a country, we are to meet our international climate change obligations,” Mr Boyd said.

Climate-KIC Australia CEO Christopher Lee said the Fairwater Project represented a unique opportunity to measure, evaluate and understand the use of new technologies.

“Working with a proactive property developer, leading researchers, start-ups and industry bodies allows us to bring a broad range of skills to a complex project. We are excited to be able to develop important insight for the property sector going forward.”

Project Lead Investigator Associate Professor Leena Thomas from UTS said the Fairwater Living Laboratory will include detailed energy and environmental monitoring, community engagement, and feedback from residents about their everyday experience of the homes and the precinct.

“The research will deliver a better understanding of the opportunities and barriers for wider adoption of the innovative geothermal heat pumps and other sustainable design features included at Fairwater.

“Additionally, the living laboratory offers a unique opportunity for our cross disciplinary team of experts from architecture and building to science, health and sustainable futures, to evaluate how this six star Green Star precinct performs in terms of sustainability, resilience, commerciality, health and wellbeing”, Associate Professor Thomas said.

ARENA media contact:

0407 125 909 | media@arena.gov.au

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Exploring Australia’s geothermal potential

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing $450,000 support for the University of Adelaide to map geothermal resources in Australia.

The $1.62 million project, led by Professor Martin Hand and Dr. Ros King, will produce maps of the distribution, orientation and connectivity of fractures in four key sedimentary basins around Australia to better understand the structural permeability in these regions.

Permeability affects how easily liquids and gases can move through and be extracted from the earth, including hot water that can be used to generate geothermal power.

Geothermal projects in Australia face major headwinds due to the high cost and risk involved with drilling deep underground. This is in contrast to projects in some other countries that benefit from tapping into geothermal heat far closer to the surface.

The University of Adelaide’s South Australian Centre for Geothermal Energy Research, part of its Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources, will also develop a “toolkit” to assist developers to predict permeability pathways within critical Australian sedimentary basins and reduce the risks associated with drilling operations.

This information will join other knowledge discovered through ARENA-supported geothermal projects and serve as a go-to source for future developments, providing a head start on viability and risk assessments.

This latest project is consistent with the 2014 International Geothermal Expert Group forward looking report that recommended ‘rebooting’ Australia’s geothermal industry.

ARENA established the International Geothermal Expert Group to investigate and report on the prospects for the commercial development of geothermal energy in Australia.

More than 30 projects completed and more on the horizon in 2015

ARENA has invested $1 billion in more than 230 projects, fellowships and scholarships that are paving the way for a more diverse energy future for Australia.

Thirty one of these projects have now been completed, with many more scheduled to reach key milestones and/or completion in 2015.

Each of these projects is producing valuable knowledge and outcomes that are being shared with the energy industry to help overcome challenges and advance renewable energy in Australia.

For example, the South Australian Centre for Geothermal Energy Research’s project has produced a reliable tool for accurate, pre-drilling predictions of geothermal energy reservoir characteristics. This could lead to a significant improvement in geothermal energy exploration and development.

A University of Newcastle project has created a working prototype of a device called a thermionic energy converter, which directly converts heat generated by concentrated sunlight into electricity.

And a project delivered by CSIRO in partnership with Abengoa, which explored cost-effective ways to collect and store solar thermal energy at high temperatures, has provided many valuable insights.

ARENA is actively on the lookout for high-value projects to invest in, and is continuing to fund new ground breaking and innovative projects to make renewable energy more affordable.