Ginninderra

Zeroing in on sustainable energy and emissions

IMG_5275

CSIRO’s Zero Emission House, near Melbourne.

In previous posts, we have talked about the idea of ‘sustainable urban development’. To understand what that could mean at street level we are going to zero-in on some of the research that CSIRO and partners are doing in this area.

This week, we focus on CSIRO research in recent years for ‘houses or dwellings’, specifically the Zero Emission House project (AusZEH). This project was set up as a demonstration of how we could achieve a more sustainable and climate-friendly future.

Through this project, CSIRO and partners successfully overcame the challenge of designing and building the first affordable, net-zero emission house. This was tailored for Australia’s climate, lifestyle and the volume housing market.

The CSIRO team also developed new AusZEH Design software for designing new Australian houses or retrofitting existing houses for zero-emission outcomes. The software allows for different local climates and context, house features and household size and occupancy pattern.

The AusZEH arose out of an understanding that homes and buildings were producing about a quarter of Australia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These emissions are due to a heavy reliance on mostly high emission electricity generation (such as coal-fired power) for heating, cooling, lighting and appliances.

“The essential aim of the project was to produce enough renewable ‘zero emission’ energy on site to supply all of the operating energy needs of a typical Australian household,” according to CSIRO’s AusZEH leader, Dr Greg Foliente.

Over the course of a year, a net-zero emission performance is achieved when the total onsite renewable energy production is the same as the total energy consumed by the residents.

The energy and emissions embodied in all the construction materials and technology used in the AusZEH house were also offset. This means that on completion in 2011, it was also the first house with net-zero lifecycle carbon emissions.

IMG_5297

Energy efficient appliances, zero emissions and highly livable.

The demonstration house in Laurimar, 30 kilometres north of Melbourne CBD, achieved an eight-star energy efficiency rating and the net zero emission standard by using ‘off-the-shelf’ building and renewable energy generation technology and future-ready energy management systems, specifically:

“We estimated that Australia would be able to avoid 63 million tons of GHG by adopting zero emission houses in all new housing developments over the decade up to 2020,” Dr Foliente said.

This emissions saving is equivalent to taking 13 million cars off the road for a year or closing 16 coal-fired power plants for a year. (US Dept of Energy greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator).

The team also developed a way of modelling the broader impacts of energy-efficient and zero-emissions technologies on building stock at a precinct, city, region or state scale.

Given data on population and housing stock growth and trends in consumption (appliances, lighting, hot water and heating/cooling), CSIRO can analyse the impacts of different actions and technologies on energy and carbon footprint scenarios for decades into the future.

With these modelling capabilities and new developments in renewable technologies and energy, there’s no reason why houses, and even an urban development like Ginninderra, could be a net energy producer while meeting the zero emission standard.

In the AusZEH house, CSIRO worked closely with industry partners Delfin-Lend Lease and Henley Property Group and a consortium of AusZEH partners.

Smart meters, part of an integrated energy management and monitoring system.

Smart meters, part of an integrated energy management and monitoring system.

 

Further reading:

The energy efficiency innovations providing new ways to reduce emissions, CSIRO blog

Unprecedented Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction to Combat Climate Change, UNFCCC

Bird, plane or scientific blimp?

The blimp in action at Ginninderra. The Phenomobile is also pictured on the left.

The blimp in action at Ginninderra. The Phenomobile is also pictured on the left.

Walking through the storage sheds at the Ginninderra Experiment Station, you would expect to find some interesting agricultural scientific equipment. What you might not expect to discover is a blimp.

However, like all shed items on site, the blimp has a story to tell. It’s part of a collection of items that also includes a ‘golf buggy on stilts’ or Phenomobile used to measure how effectively plants grow and perform under different field conditions.

The technology was developed by the High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre, which is the Canberra node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility – a partnership between CSIRO, The Australian National University, University of Adelaide and the Federal Government.

The technology uses cameras that capture different light wavelengths and signals to photograph growing plants. The photographs created allow scientists to make measurements about the plants’ growth rates, their water use efficiency and how productive the crops are over the growing season.

Having lab and farm facilities on site allowed the scientists to develop the technology in the lab, then test it in the field. The Phenomobile can get above a row of plants without harming the crop and take detailed images. The blimp does the same and can photograph a whole paddock at a time.

Being able to measure the plant without disturbing the crop or destroying the plants means crops can be monitored throughout the growing season as the environmental conditions change. The performance of different crop varieties can be monitored during a drought to see which varieties preform best under Australia’s harsh conditions.

After being trialled, tested and perfected on the CSIRO site, (and surprising a few local residents), the equipment is now used to make measurements on the paddocks of research collaborators and farmers.

While there are now certainly smaller and more portable measuring tools, such as drones, that can fly over plants and crops, the blimp provided a steady platform for the development of the imaging and analysis tools that are used in photographing plants across large areas.

While the CSIRO blimp won’t be seen again in the Canberra skies, the technology it helped to develop continues to be used in farms across the country.

Advancing crop research and sustainability

wheat cropped

CSIRO research has led to advancements that impact many aspects of our lives, from the way we conduct our finances to the way we communicate.

Some of CSIRO’s most well-known innovations include WiFi, Australia’s plastic banknotes, extended wear contact lenses and the insect repellent Aerogard.

Our scientists work on solving the nation’s and the world’s biggest challenges across a vast array of research fields.

In agriculture and plant science, CSIRO scientists work on projects ranging from improving grain and crop yields to sustainable farming.

The Ginninderra Field Station has been a key site for some of this research. Our innovations in barley and wheat crops, conducted at this site, have led to improvements in yields, quality and disease resistance, and are making an impact on a national and global scale.

This work includes the development of BARLEYmax, a whole grain with four times the resistant starch and twice the dietary fibre of regular barley grains.

Now used in a wide range of commercially available food products, BARLEYmax offers superior health benefits and can help combat cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Read more about BARLEYmax here.

Ginninderra has also played host to CSIRO’s rotation and dual-purpose cropping work. This work, supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, has seen CSIRO breed and release more than 10 dual-purpose feed wheat varieties in the last 15 years.

In addition to plant breeding, the Ginninderra site has played an important role in the work of CSIRO and partners in crop and pasture improvement, soil biology and crop productivity, sustainable farming, and the effects of climate change on crop production and soil carbon.

The recent purchase of 290 hectares of land in the heart of farming country at Boorowa, NSW, will ensure that CSIRO can not only continue this breakthrough research, but do so more effectively at a green field site set up to maximise the use of new technologies. You can find out more about the Boorowa farm here.