Human settlements

Renewable energy

Solar thermal 01: Tidbinbilla Regional Visitor Information Centre

Renewable energy commercialisation in Australia

The Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre incorporates an innovative solar heating and cooling system with operating costs that are half those of conventional airconditioners, with a lower capital outlay.

It would be reasonable to expect that the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve Regional Visitor Information Centre, being located 750 metres above sea level in the Australian Capital Territory, might install standard airconditioning to control its internal environment.

However, the centre's heating and cooling system, based on an innovative renewable energy approach, is likely to extensively influence the way designers and builders look at this issue in future. With $120,000 funding assistance from the Renewable Energy Commercialisation Program, the centre has incorporated a solar energy system that will slash its heating and cooling bills.

A consortium consisting of Environment ACT, TT Architecture, Northrop Engineers, Energy Partners and Solahart Industries Pty Ltd was responsible for the integrated design and technologies within the centre.

With the integration of various technologies and a breakthrough in the heat exchanger being used at the centre, a relatively simple renewable solar technology has been achieved. This technology is cheaper to both install and run than conventionally powered commercial heating and cooling systems. The system uses solar thermal plate collectors to provide the centre's primary heat source. Heated glycol solution from the collectors is piped into a heat exchanger located within the new POWERPAK energy transfer unit manufactured by West Australian solar energy specialist, Solahart. Heated water is then transferred into both the floor slab and heat exchangers in the mud brick walls. Passive thermal storage walls and low-velocity ventilation augment the system.

The breakthrough comes from POWERPAK being designed to operate in conditions down to minus 40C without system damage. Previously, closed circuit collectors could not be used in climates subject to freezing conditions. POWERPAK also allows the collector system to be turned off in conditions of high radiation without damaging the system or circulation fluids.

The centre is designed to achieve an average solar contribution to its heating bills of up to 80 per cent. Solahart has installed a total of 32m of roof mounted solar collector arrays connected to two POWERPAK energy transfer systems. This provides an average of 120kWh of energy per day into the hydroponic radiation system.

If the heating load were supplied from an electrical power source based on fossil fuel, it would produce approximately 180 kilograms Using conventional airconditioning, the capital cost for the centre would have been $120,000, with annual operating costs of $13,000. However, using the renewable system and achieving similar levels of comfort, only $70,000 was required for capital outlay, and operating costs were nearly halved to $7,000 annually.

With this system offering ongoing energy savings of around 60 per cent, the centre's project managers think that building owners and operators will be encouraged to consider similar applications in smaller-scale commercial buildings and on the domestic market. The principles of solar-charged radiant heating, used in conjunction with evaporative or forced air ventilation, have the potential to be extended to much larger facilities.

The RECP funding was used to further refine the system's operation, and the resultant computer modelling techniques promises to place Australian intellectual property firmly at the international forefront of expertise in the field.

With annual visitor numbers exceeding 100,000, the centre will provide a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the latest Australian renewable energy design and manufacturing technology to a large regional, national and international audience.

At the Housing Industry Association's inaugural PATHE GreenSmart Awards held in March 2000, the centre, which was opened that month, was named as the CSR GreenSmart Building of the Year, an award that recognised its outstanding incorporation of costeffective, leading-edge environmental practices.

For more information please contact

Peter Galvin
Manager, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
RMB 141 via Tharwa ACT 2620
Tel (02) 6205 1221
Fax (02) 6205 1231

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