My Weekly Preview article 18 July 2019

Electric cars are plugging in at the University of the Sunshine Coast as the precinct’s innovative solar project enters the final construction stage.

The University of the Sunshine Coast’s innovative ‘water battery’ is a major step closer to being switched on, with new car park covers fitted with hundreds of solar panels at the Sippy Downs campus.

The solar panels are among 6000 that have been installed to generate enough energy to cool the 4.5 megalitres of water that will be circulated through the campus air-conditioning and save 40 per cent of the university’s grid energy use.

USC manager, energy and infrastructure Dennis Frost says the project is the result of an innovative partnership with Veolia, which will build and install a thermal water battery system and operate it for the first 10 years.

“We are starting to get some really positive responses, particularly from people who are already using the [car] parks, seeing the solar panels installed and using the four new electric charging stations for cars,” Mr Frost says.

“The thermal water tank is well under construction, and is nearly half its final height, with the roof built first and the walls seeming to grow beneath it as the tank structure is hoisted upwards.”

Thanks to the project, USC mechanical engineering graduate Josh Craven, 23, has come full circle.

He slotted into a role at Kunda Park with global environmental solutions provider Veolia soon after graduation and soon found himself back on campus to help construct the water battery.

Mr Craven was involved in the early project planning, including layout drawings, site drawings, writing the scope of works and organising contracts.

“It’s exciting to be working on a project that was designed for USC specifically to save energy and to protect the environment,” he says.

“It is becoming increasingly crucial that we consider the impact we are having on the environment.”

“Every year, due to new industry standards, a growing environmental awareness, and the increasing cost of electricity, we see that clients are more willing to see sustainable solutions.”

Mr Craven is also working with USC engineering students, conducting energy audits for several buildings across the campus to help the precinct take more steps towards its goal of reaching zero net emissions by 2025.

USC engineering discipline Leader Professor Helen Fairweather says the project offers a unique opportunity for students to see sustainable and innovative projects in action.

“It’s becoming the norm for engineering students that this is what is required when you do a construction project,” she says.

“You look for ways to bring in renewable technology, renewable energy and construction techniques that are more efficient, use less materials and have a sustainable life.”

The project is expected to save more than 92,000 tonnes of carbon emissions over 25 years. USC is also developing plans for carbon-saving measures at its other campuses across the region.