(Part of) Sydney tries to deal with air-conditioning

Blacktown goes green to beat the heat

Demand for power-hungry air-conditioners on the few really hot days of the year – especially in the booming western suburbs where temperatures are higher and houses are bigger – is so strong the NSW Government is considering building a new coal-fired power plant to cope.

But an ambitious project launched today at Blacktown’s Civic Plaza hopes to prove there is a cheaper, more environmentally friendly way to solve the power problem.

With a $15 million grant from the Federal Government and $22 million from consortium members, the Blacktown Solar Cities project is designed to demonstrate how a combination of solar power, smart electricity meters, energy efficiency and innovative approaches to electricity pricing can meet energy needs and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

By “few really hot days”, the Sydney Morning Herald means the handful or more (and increasing) days when it goes over 40º Centigrade (Americans: 104º Fahrenheit, but up to 115º at times). Needless to say – anyone with an air-conditioner and electricity lights up the grid.

The consequences of this drain are two-fold, and very serious. As well as the strain on the electricity grid, there is the climate/environmental harm that so many cooling engines, running simultaneously, will do to a city as concrete as Sydney. For non-New South Welshmen, Blacktown is a city within the City of Sydney:

google map Blacktown

It is not uncommon. Sydney – the administrative version – extends almost as far West as the green area on that map (Blacktown has 47 suburbs of its own). Building a new coal-powered plant to manage the load would be a nightmare. The smog generated, for a start, would only exacerbate matters: increasing trapped heat, humidity and the haze would just drive more people indoors for longer hours. Up goes air-conditioner (and other electricity use) still further. Obesity too, probably.

Houses and incomes have grown considerably in Blacktown, as gentrification-sprawl pushes ever-outwards, coupled with the whole financial deregulation thing.

That consortium:

The project is backed by BP Solar, Integral Energy, ANZ Bank, Landcom, Blacktown Council and energy efficiency expert Big Switch and runs until 2013. The consortium members hope that by avoiding an estimated 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and shaving $3 million off electricity bills each year the project will drive policy changes that favour demand management, energy efficiency and renewable energy ahead of electricity grid expansion and new power plants.

Not bad at all. I’d need Landcom’s involvment explained to me – although, if they can aid in demonstrating sustainable urban development, they do make their own lives easier. It could also just be state politics, helping out. People often assume that energy companies have little invested interest in such affairs, but that is not the case. New Yorkers need only look around to realise that Con Edison’s life would be a lot less troublesome if demand-management could be brought to bear. Same for any other city. If the loads placed on the electricity grid could only be better-managed, things would go more smoothly for everyone.

Related to which. This article mentions, in passing, something that is key to demand-management, and which I’d like to see discussed more:

The Doherty family are among 1000 locals who have already registered their interest in the project.

Living on a tight budget, but maintaining a home equipped with air-conditioning, several computers and a pool, Gordon and Janet Doherty have had their energy use audited by Integral Energy, and are thinking about taking part in a trial in which their pool pump will be turned off automatically on 12 hot days over summer, during peak energy periods. It won’t affect the cleanliness of the pool but should cut the family’s power bill.

The family of four has already switched its lights to less energy-intensive compact fluorescent bulbs, and has begun turning off at the wall appliances that use standby power.

Setting up intelligent devices, that conserve energy during peak periods (water heaters that operate during the cheapest periods of the day, for example) is usually thought of in the vein of households saving money, but it can save an entire city a blackout, or an entire city of computers the threat of a power surge during the evenings. It also goes a long way towards making the use of renewable energy, even with current storage limitations, all the more feasible.

I hope something comes of this trial/project long before 2013, which will most likely be too late to save anybody. I would expect, though, government and energy companies to respond within a couple of years, if it looks like paying off as it should. At the very least the incentives, on both sides, all make perfect sense.

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