On why the net zero all-electric challenge deserves the biggest brains trust we can manage (on 5 August at Flick the Switch)

Photo by David Matos on Unsplash

News from the front desk, issue 491: There’s pretty much consensus, in The Fifth Estate’s circles at least, that going all-electric is the most straight-forward way for most buildings to hit net zero targets.

It makes sense when Australia’s energy network is tracking towards the “biggest and fastest” clean energy transition in the world according to AEMO’s Integrated System Plan, released on Thursday, with business-as-usual scenario expected to deliver a 74 per cent renewables share by 2040.

If a bit of effort is made, the regulator thinks this could be more like 94.2 per cent renewables in that same 20 years.

As we all know, the grid will need firming to get off coal, such as pumped hydro and large-scale battery energy storage systems.

AEMO has flagged flexible gas generators as an option, but only if gas prices stay super low. Otherwise, cleaner storage options are likely to beat gas on the bottom line.

Once the built environment industry goes electric, it can also play a part in shoring up an increasingly two-way grid through demand management and demand response, with smart airconditioners pre-cooling homes before a heat wave to help flatten out peak demand.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

All electric buildings and cities might feel like the clearest path forward to net zero, it’s hardly well-trodden terrain. In fact, the speakers at our upcoming Flick the Switch virtual conference on this topic say it’s no walk in the park.

In many respects, disconnecting from the gas line completely is a tough nut to crack. But there’s nothing quite like a challenge to drum up a bit of interest, we believe at The Fifth Estate.

According to our star speakers for the event Wednesday 5 August (tickets are still available, snag one now because sales stop at 5 pm Tuesday 4 August) there’s few silver bullets in the pursuit of all-electric, net zero buildings and cities.

Rory Martin, sustainability manager at Fraser Property Australia, has some great solutions and will discuss his company’s 3500 all electric apartments he’s working on.

He’ll discuss embedded networks and once you’ve got that sorted out, the power of messaging.  There’s still a lingering attachment to gas cooktops, for example, even though a number of celebrity chefs are now advocates for induction cooking.

Office buildings come with their own set of challenges. If you ask Dave Palin, sustainability manager at Mirvac, it’s a matter of back to the drawing board on heating, cooling and ventilation when you’re designing a new all-electric office building. The rule book won’t do us much good.

Heat pumps often look the best on paper but AECOM principal sustainability consultant Siân Willmott says that these burly bits of machinery are not easily subbed in for gas boilers.

Cost is the other elephant in the room. Even our most committed sustainability leaders might baulk at the cost of heat pump retrofit when a replacement gas boiler can be as little as 10 per cent of this cost, as The Fifth Estate has been advised.

But even if all-electric is too cost-prohibitive now, Steve Ford from GPT says it’s critical to anticipate a transition down the track so that when the tech gets better and cheaper, there’s enough space in the plant room to accommodate a heat pump (etcetera).

Bringing down the cost of these genius devices that manage to extract heat and cool from the air around us is critical. Glenn Day is director, national sales & public affairs at energy product manufacturer STIEBEL ELTRON so is on the front line of this battle. He will point to several things he says will help, including, not surprisingly, existing building regulation and standards.

From a manufacturer’s perspective, it’s not easy to navigate the different requirements in every state. Day reckons Australia’s probably a more complicated place to do business than the entire European Union for this reason.

But what if we’re thinking too small scale. Could district heating and cooling be the ticket? Or is pumping hot water around a district just a waste of energy? Especially when you compare it to high efficiency of a copper wire to transport electricity.

And is there a place for hydrogen in a net zero built environment? What about in industrial facilities where extreme temperatures are needed, and electric solutions might not cut it?

There’s so many unanswered questions on this issue and we need the best minds in the industry to help us solve this challenge.

We suspect this is one event TFE readers won’t want to miss.  

Get your tickets here.

Sales end at 5 pm Tuesday, 4 August

Comments

5 Responses to “On why the net zero all-electric challenge deserves the biggest brains trust we can manage (on 5 August at Flick the Switch)”

  • Gerald Asbroek says:

    I particularly dislike the terms chiller of heat pump as it conveniently slots a machine into one job and to now see a chiller and heat pump installed in every plant room made me design one without it
    Energy pumps should be a sign of change and used in Circular with an ability to generate electrical energy from excess heat and have connectivity for cold in a society , we have clean energy it is now time we provided clean NO waste paths for it to be used in

  • It’s good to know that doing a routine inspection of the burner is the first thing you
    need to do. My cousin was telling me yesterday afternoon about how he is needing to find a
    boiler to rent for his company, and he wants to make sure that he knows
    how to maintain it while using it. I’ll make
    sure to pass these tips along to him once he finds
    one to rent so that he can know how to maintain one.

  • Alan Venn-Brown says:

    In Australia, well constructed thermally insulated buildings need very little heating (especially if set back temperatures are used.
    The real difficulty in an all electric building is ensuring that you have an adequate standby fire pump solution, and back up power for when the grid fails.

  • Penny Prasad says:

    I think the heat pump is a good efficient transition technology while we wait the 20 years for the grid to switch to mainly renewables….ten or 15 year life for a hot water system?

  • Nigel Howard says:

    Why so hung up on heat pumps? – we’ve had electric resistance water heating for decades and it is the cheapest and most compact to install. The downside of course is that it’s inefficient compared to a heat pump, but if we’re envisaging a future of cheap renewable energy in excess then its not such a dumb idea, especially if the cylinder is oversized and well insulated and need only be turned on at off-peak times. OR It can also be installed at point of use to avoid the storage losses of the BIG heat pump system. Sometimes we get seduced by hi-tech solutions perhaps?

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