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Posted On: February 9, 2021

USC turns sustainability leader with its “water battery”

Solar powered “water battery” invented by the University of Sunshine Coast has won laurels as it generated more than 3 GWh of electricity in its first 12 months of operation. An additional 2 GWh of electricity is fed into Queensland’s energy grid. This project accounts for more than 34% of the total electricity required by the University. It was commissioned in August 2019. The system has attracted global attention for its innovative approach and environmental benefits.

The Australian University partnered with Environmental solutions company Veolia to build a three-story high thermal energy storage tank in USC’s main campus and installed more than 6,500 solar panels across campus rooftops and carpark structures.

This 2.1 MW solar PV system produces enough energy to cool 4.5 megalitres of water, effectively acting as an eight-megawatt battery. This cooled water is stored and used for air conditioning. It accounts for 60% of energy use.

Andrew Darr, Veolia’s regional energy solutions manager, said the system had surpassed all expectations since its commissioning. In the first year itself, it saved 4,232 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is equivalent of planting almost 70,000 trees and growing them for 10 years. 3,082 tonnes were saved by USC through using solar power instead of grid electricity and 1,150 tonnes were saved by Veolia by feeding solar energy into the grid.

Over its lifespan of 25 years, the system will provide an estimated $100 million saving for the university, by reducing mains water consumption by more than 802,000 kilolitres. The system expects to save 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the emissions of 525 average Australian houses for the same period.

There’s no capital outlay for USC. Veolia will install the panels and tank at no cost to the University. Veolia has signed a 10-year agreement to operate and maintain the infrastructure, sells the energy generated by the system back to the university at a rate cheaper than electricity from the grid. After this 10-year period, ownership of the infrastructure will transfer to USC.
USC Vice-Chancellor Helen Bartlett said, “USC is the first university in Australia to install a water battery powered by renewables, which is further proof that you don’t need to be in the big cities to do big things. On top of this, we are tracking our energy savings in real time and using that information to teach our engineers, designers and leaders of the future about the enormous and cost-effective possibilities in renewable technologies.”

The project won the prestigious Out of the Box category of the Global District Energy Climate Awards in 2019 among strong international competition. Recently it won the Denis Joseph Award for Innovative Use of Solar Energy in HVAC&R (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) from the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating.

With this project, USC has made a giant leap in its efforts toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2025. It is a proof that regional universities can play a key role in innovation. This project has positioned USC as a sustainability leader across the higher education sector.

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