COLLABORATION

University of the Sunshine Coast finds a unique renewable way to power its campus

SOURCE: Darren Tierney/Shutterstock
The University of the Sunshine Coast's new solar-thermal energy storage system will cut the university’s energy usage by 40 percent.

The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Australia last Thursday switched on their brand new rather unusual thermal energy storage system that promises to cut the university’s energy usage by 40 percent.

The system is the first of its kind in Australia and was developed in partnership with Veolia to manage the university’s energy expenditure on campus-wide air conditioning.

The “water battery”, as the system is called, consists of a three-storey tank of water that will be cooled by a complex thermal process powered by more than 6,000 solar panels.

thermal energy storage
The “water battery” consists of a three-storey tank of water that will be cooled by a complex thermal process powered by more than 6,000 solar panels. Source: University of the Sunshine Coast

The panels themselves are installed all over USC’s Sippy Downs in Queensland, Australia, covering rooftops, parking lots and other structures to get the maximum effect. Together they will produce 2.1 megawatts of energy, which is then used to cool the 4.5 megalitres in the water tank. Water from this system will then be used to power air conditioners across campus.

Air conditioning is currently the biggest single consumer of electricity, taking about 40 percent of the entire campus’s daily energy use. By switching to the new thermal energy storage system, the university is taking a major step towards reaching its zero-carbon goal.

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“For a regional university to be leading the way on this is proof that we don’t need to be in the big cities to be taking big strides in new ideas in renewables, and for us that’s very exciting,” USC Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill said in a statement.

“This technology has the potential to change the way energy is stored at scale and we are hoping other organisations take inspiration and indeed copy us. The team behind this is already sharing the technology with schools, universities and companies around the world.”

thermal energy storage
The water tank holds 4.5 megalitres. Water from the system is used to power air conditioners across campus. Source: University of the Sunshine Coast

USC is also using the new technology as a teaching opportunity. Student engineers and designers are studying the new thermal energy storage system, which allows for all staff and faculty to monitor campus energy consumption and track USC’s energy savings.

According to USC, the system is expected to save more than 92 thousand tonnes of CO2 emissions over 25 years, equivalent to the carbon emissions of 525 average Australian houses for the same period. It will lead to an estimated AU$100 million (US$67 million) saving over the 25-year life of the project.