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Perth grid-locked on power

AS the mercury soared into the 40s last week Perth’s increasing reliance on air-conditioning to cool homes and workplaces became starkly evident.

Last week’s crisis has thrown the spotlight on our dependence on energy for domestic climate control.

But according to the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, the power crisis could have been averted if the current housing stock, and other Perth buildings, had been designed using basic energy efficient principles.

RAIA WA Chapter president Warren Kerr said well-designed houses that were appropriate for Australian conditions – incorporating correct orientation, appropriate insulation and solar-efficient principles – should rarely require any form of heating or cooling for most areas in Perth.

Mr Kerr said it was totally inappropriate that European-style building imitations, such as French Provincial, Cape Cod and Tuscan villas were still being constructed in Western Australia. 

Mr Kerr was also critical of the practice of removing trees on many housing estates in order to maximise the number of houses constructed, as this only compounded the problem of overheating. 

“Where the built environment and the natural environment successfully interact, the extremes of temperature are not as great,” Mr Kerr said.

As a result of poor design and orientation, many homes were totally dependent on mechanical means of heating and cooling, he said, leading to the additional energy consumption that caused last week’s power shortages.

“We need to recognise that 40 per cent of greenhouse gases are generated by the construction and operation of buildings and the manufacture of the materials used to build them,” Mr Kerr told WA Business News. 

“Consequently, it is imperative [if we believe in a sustainable future] that we design our houses in response to our climatic conditions, minimising the need for artificial systems of heating and cooling”.

Mr Kerr said even if all the housing constructed from tomorrow were designed in accordance with sustainable design principles, the backlog of existing inappropriate housing would still consume a significant proportion of our energy requirements for the next 40 to 50 years. 

“As much as $60 million could be saved each year if the current housing stock had been designed using basic energy efficient principles, including correct orientation, appropriate insulation and solar-efficient principles,” he said.

“This building stock now represents a liability for the WA community which we will have to pay for year after year.”

Among the many to suffer in the heat last week were tenants of older office building stock in Perth’s CBD. Only a few buildings, such as Woodside Plaza, QV1, Exchange Plaza and Forrest Centre, had generators with sufficient capacity to continue to run air-conditioning and other vital building functions. 

Many businesses housed in older CBD buildings were forced to send their employees home due to the heat.

With energy supply set to become a more critical issue in the coming years, last week’s crisis has highlighted the need to plan for future energy demands and improving energy efficiency.

Burgess Rawson director of property management, Michael McCormick, said constant electricity supply was critical not only to the functionality of a building, but also its security. This, plus the growing green movement in the office leasing market, would lead to the implementation of energy saving technology and equipment.

Mr McCormick said that, with energy consumption the largest building outgoing cost, more tenants were beginning to consider a building’s suitability on its green rating.

CB Richard Ellis director of assets services David Weaver said tenants in older buildings could not expect to have new equipment, however there was growing pressure on building owners to have greater energy generating capacity.

The biggest energy user in office buildings is air-conditioning. To achieve greater efficiencies, Mr Weaver said, building owners could install newer, more efficient chillers, or adjust their current systems.

“Look at how the existing building is running. By adjusting the way the system is running considerable savings can be achieved,” he said.

Perth’s newest office building, Woodside Plaza, has implemented a plethora of energy saving technologies within its 46,000 square metre surrounds.

Its air-conditioning plant has variable speed motors that are designed to slow down and consume less energy when the building requires less cooling. There also is a low-load chiller for when minimal cooling is required.  Light harvesting technology has been installed throughout the building, enabling lights to dim when natural sunlight is prevalent and brighten when it diminishes.  The lights also work on a motion sensor system. They use low-emission light tubes, which have been used to decrease light wattage from the traditional 36 watts to 28 watts.

CB Richard Ellis engineering manager of Woodside Plaza, Tom Rollo, said the building was unaffected by the energy cuts last week due to its ability to disconnect completely from the Western Power supply.

Mr Rollo said the building had four generators, with fuel holding capacity of 60,000 litres, which could operate the building for up to four days.

 

“This building stock now represents a liability for the WA community which we will have to pay for year after year.”

-         Warren Kerr

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