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Self-powering classrooms score top marks for sustainability

Two NSW schools are in a class of their own when it comes to renewable energy, thanks to their new self-powering classrooms that have the potential to take schools off Australia’s over-stressed energy grid.

With financial assistance from the Australian Government via ARENA, the cutting-edge classrooms are being trialled at two schools in Sydney and Wollongong.

Manufactured by Sydney-based Hivve, the portable, modular buildings are highly energy efficient. They also incorporate solar panels and smart technology including real-time energy metering, CO2 monitoring, data capture and communications.

This allows schools to actively manage their own energy usage as well as indoor temperature and air quality, keeping the environment just right for learning.

Research has shown that well-designed classrooms improve students’ attention span, creativity, mood and performance, so the Hivve classroom is designed to optimise natural light, acoustics and layout.


ARENA is providing $368,000 to fund the 12-month trial of the new classrooms at St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School in Holsworthy, in south-western Sydney, and at Dapto High School near Wollongong, after a prototype proved successful in a controlled environment.

Regular school classrooms consume on average 3800 KWh a year. Hivve classrooms are designed to generate enough electricity to power themselves as well as enough surplus electricity for another two classrooms, an estimated net energy generation of 7600 KWh a year.

However, St Christopher’s Headmaster Tony Boyd says early indications from their classroom show it could far exceed this benchmark.

“The data summary for the week to Feb 5-11 shows our classroom generated 472.8kWh,” said Boyd. “That single classroom generated enough power to power 6.6 similar classrooms.”


Boyd said the Hivve classroom has so far been a hit with students on several levels.

“Normally no-one wants to be in the demountables,” said Boyd. “But even the classes in the bricks-and-mortar buildings want to be in the new classroom.”

“The kids love it because it’s a very comfortable, inviting space, but they are also really interested in monitoring how much electricity it is generating.”

“Our teachers are currently working with a science and technology curriculum consultant to write a study unit on power usage and generation, which we are basing on our sustainable classroom.”

Boyd said the advanced design of the building, with its emphasis on sustainable materials, thermal efficiency and ergonomics, was also inspiring students.

“A couple of our classes are using different aspects of it. For example our Year 5s are studying the design aspects of it. It’s good having it on site as a real example to collect data from.”


Boyd said the data on CO₂ levels had been a real eye-opener for him personally. Unlike temperature and light levels, it can be difficult to know air quality is poor until it’s too late. Hivve’s monitoring equipment informs teachers in real time that air quality is deteriorating and that fresh air needs to be introduced, either by simply opening the windows or via the heating/cooling system.

“As soon as one person walks in, you can see an instant impact on the CO₂ levels in the classroom, I was quite amazed,” says Boyd. “As a result of this I have been going around to all classrooms and reacquainting teachers with how their windows open so they are ensuring there is good cross-ventilation.”

Students are able to monitor how much electricity the classroom is generating


Boyd said Sydney Catholic Schools’ Facilities Unit, responsible for the infrastructure of dozens of schools across the city, was following the trial closely, and it was raising general awareness of renewable power generation.

“For example, we have solar panels on our hall that were installed in 2008. As a result of this project, and in partnership with Hivve, we are looking at monitoring the output of those panels and comparing them to the ones on the new classroom, which are a couple of generations ahead and far more efficient. It may be that it is worth replacing them.”

“And it goes a bit wider than that, too — what are the possibilities for greater power generation for schools so we can cut our costs? We are all community-based organisations with very large roof areas, so we are ideally placed to be the next generation of power generators, housing lots of small, clean renewable power sources based on schools.”

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said there is enormous potential for Australia’s public schools to not only educate on renewables, but also reduce their reliance on the grid.

“This is a great way to get the next generation involved in renewables at an early age,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“The success of the Hivve project could lead to a nationwide adoption of the modular classrooms, reducing reliance on the grid and even providing a significant amount of electricity back to the National Electricity Market.”

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Swimming pools help keep energy grid cool over summer

A series of record-breaking heatwaves pummelled Sydney this summer, with one particular day even earning Penrith the dubious distinction of the hottest place on Earth. So it’s no wonder that many city residents have been seeking refuge in their swimming pools.

But pool equipment is notoriously power-hungry, so a cool swim can come at a high price.

Residential swimming pools consume three to five megawatts of power depending on their size, often making up 30-40 percent of total household energy consumption.

To address this issue, ARENA has announced $2.5 million in funding for a pilot-scale demonstration in Sydney of an innovative technology that can slash the energy consumption of household swimming pools. The initiative is designed to cut usage by more than half, potentially saving pool owners an average of $1000 a year on bills, and reducing stress on the nation’s energy grid.


Sydney homeowners who decide to join the program will have their pool upgraded to a ‘smart pool’ via the installation of an intelligent controller. This device is connected to the Internet of Things and automatically manages the pool’s pump and the dispensing of chemicals.

The system is the brainchild of Sydney-based start-up Pooled Energy, which has invested some $15 million in its development.

Pooled Energy’s cloud-based control system collects data from sensors that monitor the pool’s water chemistry and temperature. That is then used in conjunction with information on the local weather, the state of the national electricity grid, and the current cost of power to implement an optimal pool management regime without any inconvenience to users.

Home owners pay an initial set-up fee to have the system installed and use Pooled Energy as their electricity retailer. The typical swimming pool’s energy consumption can be reduced by up to 50 to 70 percent, delivering a very attractive return on investment.

The system is also able to use weather forecasts to optimise solar panel use where these are installed on the home, running the pool from panel energy on sunny days.

A mobile app allows the homeowner to monitor the pool controller and override it if required, although this is rarely used, according to Pooled Energy, as the software handles the job so efficiently.

Residential swimming pools often make up 30-40 percent of total household energy consumption.



Pooled Energy sought ARENA’s assistance to accelerate its roll-out by jointly funding a $5 million pilot project that will enable it to increase the number of installed pool sites from the current 400, to between 3000 and 5000.

The trial will also test the capability of Pooled Energy’s system to contribute to demand response during times of peak electricity consumption.

Demand response reduces unplanned power outages and unwanted price spikes by rewarding users who can temporarily shift some electricity use to off-peak periods when extra capacity is required on the electricity network.

Pooled Energy’s cloud-based network control system allows it to adjust energy use in response to signals from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and networks.

The Sydney pilot project forms part of a national demand response trial announced by ARENA and AEMO in 2017. This $35.7 million collaboration between the two agencies is designed to test proof-of-concept projects to support grid security and stability.


While Sydneysiders will be the first to benefit from the new technology, Pooled Energy chairman John Riedl says the aim is to eventually expand the service nationwide.

“There are more than 1.4 million swimming pools in Australia, and pools use approximately 10 per cent of the average demand on the residential grid,” said Riedl.

“If all the pools were on at once, they would use up to 3.7 gigawatts of energy—the equivalent of two Liddell-sized power stations running at capacity—so there is huge potential to better manage that energy use for the wider benefit.

“This technology also reduces a household’s total energy usage by up to 20 per cent, so customers also benefit by saving on their power bills, with an average saving of $1000 a year, based on our experience to date.”


ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the pilot project will demonstrate Pooled Energy’s ability to use swimming pools to manage demand at peak times.

“Household swimming pools take up a very large load on the electricity network over the summer period and can contribute to increased power bills for families,” he said.

“Pooled Energy’s technology will now be able to test turning that load into a significant contribution in providing low-cost demand response in significant volume, alongside making significant productivity improvements.”

Once the technology is proven in Australia, it has the potential to make a splash worldwide. Pooled Energy hopes to next export the system to the United States, where there are more than 12 million residential swimming pools.


Driving Australians to embrace electric vehicles

A new public participation program by Evenergi has the potential to increase the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on Australia’s roads and boost the amount of solar and storage units installed in homes.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is helping to increase electric vehicle uptake in Australia with $172,215 in funding for EVenergi’s Charge Together campaign.

Charge Together will involve a social media and marketing campaign to identify prospective EV buyers, and undertake consumer research to help understand the barriers for uptake.

Participants will receive a home and car monitoring system which will emulate the cost and logistics of owning, as well as charging and maintaining an electric car.

With the data collected, Evenergi will build an online tool for consumers to model the influence of rooftop solar, home batteries and electricity tariffs on a decision to buy EVs.

Evenergi’s consumer research will inform a report for government and industry that will identify barriers, potential infrastructure hotspots and lay the groundwork for EV charging stations as uptake increases.

After the program was successfully trialled in the UK, the $349,573 program will be rolled out initially in South Australia. If successful, it could be expanded in other states.

The program will also show how electric cars can work together with rooftop solar and battery storage to reduce the load on the grid, and will provide energy networks with insights into the impact of electric cars on the grid.

The program involves partnerships with South Australian Power Networks, Adelaide Council, the SA Government and the Australian Electric Vehicle Association. Program participants will be eligible to win prizes and will be offered rewards from Renault, Mitsubishi, AGL, Hyundai, Nissan and other industry leaders.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project would help better understand why Australians had not embraced electric cars, what the barriers to uptake were and to encourage further investment. The project would also help to deliver on ARENA’s investment priority of improving Australia’s energy productivity.

“ARENA is excited to be involved in Evenergi’s project to capture information about the needs and preferences of potential electric vehicle customers, and the capabilities of electricity retailers and networks in order to accelerate the uptake of EVs,”

“Understanding the potential impacts of EVs on both home energy use and the electricity network will provide valuable knowledge on how EVs can maximise the use of local generation while integrating into a more flexible renewable distribution grid of the future.” Mr Frischknecht said.

Evenergi founder and CEO Daniel Hilson said Evenergi is committed to accelerating electric vehicle adoption in Australia.

“Our experience in the UK demonstrated that regional programs are a key part of putting in place the incentives and infrastructure required to support this,” he said.

“With the support of ARENA and the project partners, this program will encourage more Australians to consider electric cars and will help government and industry overcome the barriers to uptake.”

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 |

Download this media release (PDF 134KB)

Australia’s first hybrid wind and solar farm

In the southern tablelands of NSW lies 28 hectares of energy generation – a 10MW solar farm surrounded by a 73 turbine wind farm. These co-located renewable energy farms produce continuous energy generation. They complement each other with the wind farm generating more during winter and the solar farm generating more in the summer.

The Gullen solar farm has over 42,000 solar panels working hard and will produce approximately 22,000 megawatt-hours of clean renewable energy each year. This is enough energy to supply approximately 3,100 NSW homes.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said this was an important milestone for co-located renewable energy services in Australia.

“The success of the Gullen Solar Farm has laid the groundwork for more solar plants to be built alongside wind farms in other areas of Australia and is also helping large-scale solar costs fall more quickly,”

“Wind farm owners across Australia can look to Gullen and see the benefits of adding solar plants such as reducing the environmental impact, increasing their renewable energy output,  and saving money on grid connection, approvals and site development costs by co-locating renewables.” Mr Frischknecht said.

The Gullen solar farm was turned on and producing electricity last year, but was only officially opened this week.


If you are struggling to imagine what 73 wind turbines and 42,000 solar panels look like, why not come and see for yourself? You can get up close and personal to a wind turbine and a solar array.


Keeping the lights on: NSW’s ‘virtual power plant’ to curb summer blackouts

The Australian summer is here in all its resplendence, but with the sun and fun comes the very real potential for widespread power outages across the country. We know just how inconvenient, and sometimes dangerous, blackouts can be, but what can we do to curb them?

Thankfully, this has been the focus of large sectors of Australia’s innovative energy sector, with tech firm EnerNoc set to launch a 20-megawatt demand-response initiative in New South Wales.

Financed by ARENA and NSW Government, the ambitious and exciting project will provide a “virtual power plant’’ at a fraction of the cost of creating new supply of electricity in extreme weather conditions. This will be achieved by managing a ‘reserve’ of commercial and industrial businesses that agree to temporarily reduce or shift their power consumption, all in response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives.

EnerNOC has already recruited 16 of the approximately 20 individual businesses that will be involved in the NSW project. Firms such as paper manufacturers, metalworkers and glass manufacturers will all take part. The reserve will be delivered entirely by load curtailment (i.e. not by diesel generation) and by companies that are not already participating in any form of demand response.

ARENA is excited to lend a hand to this increasingly valuable resource option and its proven global use in quashing unplanned outages and smoothing unwanted price spikes. It gives consumers the opportunity to play a significant role in the operation of the electricity grid while earning incentives.

At present, the demand response solution has not been fully adopted in Australia, while in many other countries, up to 15 percent of peak electricity is supplied by demand response.


Boston-based EnerNOC is the largest demand response provider in the US, operating some of the most widespread demand response networks in the world, including California, Japan and Taiwan. Using sophisticated energy intelligence software and automated hardware installed on participating business’ premises, EnerNOC is shining a light on traditional grid consumption.

The NSW reserve can be initiated remotely to respond within 10 minutes of a notification from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) that a spike in electricity demand is taking place–ensuring the public comfort during peak periods.


Matt Grover, EnerNOC‘s manager of market development, says demand reductions can be achieved without significant disruption to participating businesses.

“The loads involved in this program are pre-planned and are voluntarily curtailed for short periods of time,” says Grover.

“We choose parts of a facility that have tolerably low opportunity costs and can withstand brief interruptions. For example, you might have a manufacturer who is crushing to a stockpile and can drop their stockpile for a period of time. Or you may have a cold store that’s got some thermal storage and can do without electricity for a brief period of time.”



Additional to the NSW project, EnerNOC will provide another 30MW of demand response through similar projects in Victoria and South Australia, freeing up a total of 50MW to address surges in peak national electricity demand.

The projects form part of the national demand response trial announced by ARENA and AEMO in October 2017 to provide a total of 200MW of emergency reserves for summer blackouts and other extreme demand peaks by 2020.

This $35.7 million collaboration between the two agencies is designed to test proof-of-concept projects to support grid security and stability. ARENA is committed to providing $28.6 million on behalf of the Australian Government, towards the initiative. $7.2 million of that is being matched by the NSW Government for NSW-based projects.


Altogether 10 pilot projects have been awarded funding under the initiative. Apart from large-scale industrial and commercial businesses, these initiatives will also recruit thousands of households to voluntarily sign up to participate in demand response in return for incentives. Through this, household participants will have optional user overrides.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht says the demand response scheme will explore various avenues to not only ease the strain on the electricity grid and prevent blackouts, but also to put money back into the pockets of Australian businesses and households. In turn, this will help to reduce energy costs and emissions—a win-win for all.

“We are looking to test a range of technologies and approaches to deliver the most cost-effective outcome,” Mr Frischknecht says.

“Through this initiative we’ve been able to build a virtual power plant the size of two of Tesla’s giant 100MW batteries (such as that recently installed in South Australia) in a matter of months for a fraction of the cost of building new supply.”



Managing director and CEO of AEMO Audrey Zibelman says demand response has untapped potential to help satisfy demand during extreme peaks in Australia, just as it does in other countries.

“These demand response projects will help manage spikes in peak demand in a cost-effective way using our existing electricity infrastructure and clever new technology,” Zibelman says.

“This will create the proof of concept for a new market mechanism that will ultimately be to the benefit of Australian consumers.”

Australians love to talk about the weather, but don’t want to have to suffer because of it, and demand response projects like these are positive steps toward a stable and reliable energy future.


AGL Virtual Trial of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Energy Trading

REALM: Renewable energy and load management for businesses

Flicking the switch: (Hybrid) energy comes to Flinders Island

How do you get a power system to a remote community quickly and safely?

It’s not a trick question but the answer might surprise: you build it elsewhere.

For its newest Hybrid Energy Hub on Flinders Island, Hydro Tasmania tried something new. Parts were assembled in factories on the Tasmanian mainland and shipped over the Bass Strait in containers, ready for installation and commissioning within a matter of months.

The new Hybrid Energy Hub at Flinders Island. IMAGE: Hydro Tasmania


These “plug and play” components have been tasked a seemingly simple aim, to provide a reliable power supply to Flinders Island’s population of less than 1000 people.

But there’s more than just lessening the number of blackouts at play here. Hydro Tasmania’s newest microgrid project aims to displace diesel generation on the island by 60 percent through solar and wind power and battery storage. On some days when the wind blows strong or the sun is out in force, it’s hoped the island will run entirely on renewables.

It also builds on the work done in other remote locations at King Island, Rottnest Island and Coober Pedy by “modularising” the process of building such power systems in remote locations.

“It’s something that’s not been done before,” Hydro Tasmania’s chairman Grant Every-Burns said.

“It’s a Tasmanian innovation and it’s bringing clean energy to an isolated community. With that innovation comes less diesel usage, lower diesel fuel costs, lower emissions and the opportunity for Flinders Island to further boost its clean and sustainable reputation.”

ARENA contributed $5.5 million to the project as part of its CARRE program for encouraging renewables in regional Australia.

Chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said the agency was delighted to be involved in the latest iteration of Hydro Tasmania’s microgrid work.

Speaking at the launch of the hub on Flinders Island on December 11, he said there was “huge potential” for the technology to be used in other remote communities in Australia and overseas.

“Queensland alone has almost 50 remote communities that are quite similar in size and scale to Flinders Island,” he said.

“[There is opportunity in] The rest of the world, particularly the developing world, and power systems in not so remote areas that aren’t working well. So being able to bring in a reliable system that has a lot of renewables in it, that you can simply plug in together and get going quickly and easily, there’s huge potential there.”


Hydro Tasmania’s manager of Hybrid Energy Operations, Ray Massie, agreed there were global applications for their work and data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows there is a need. It’s estimated that the more than 1 billion people still have limited or no access to reliable electricity, many of them in remote locations.

The Flinders Island Hybrid Energy Hub features a single 900 kW wind turbine and 200 kW solar array. The enabling systems include a 750 kW/300 kWh battery, 850 kVA flywheel, and 1.5 MW dynamic resistor.

The hub is on the site of an old diesel-powered plant and has been in operation since November. On the day of launch, it was headed towards 83 hours straight of 100 per cent renewable generation.