Taking on the liveability challenge
Canberra is one of the best places to live in the world. Our beautiful open spaces, incredible sense of community and cosmopolitan lifestyle – without the traffic congestion typical in most cities – has now been recognised on a national and international level.
In March 2014 Canberra was ranked number one in the OECD Regional Well-Being Report, scoring highly in eight of the nine indicators including safety, access to services, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, income and health.
Since then Canberra has continued to perform well in global assessments of liveability, ranking number 28 on the Worldwide Quality of Living survey in February 2016. While this is an achievement to be celebrated, can we actually improve on this?
Shaping and improving our future cities and their liveability is the focus of a range of CSIRO research. Achieving such improvements in liveability is also a key aspiration for our Ginninderra project.
“Liveability is typically measured using various social and economic indicators such as income, wealth, education, health status, economic, community and recreational infrastructure, and access to opportunities and services,” according to CSIRO Social Scientist, Dr Rod McCrea.
There are also aesthetic and environmental elements that contribute to liveability, for example features such as: air and water quality, environmental outlook and setting, and even native plant and animal presence.
“So in every city we see this trade-off between benefits such as: access to employment, health and entertainment opportunities and services; and the negative consequences of urban growth such as: housing costs, overcrowding, congestion and environmental degradation.”
“Increases in travel-to-work time and declining access to affordable housing can be negative impacts of urban growth when it is not well planned and executed.”
Rod and colleagues Professors Rosemary Leonard and Greg Foliente recently conducted a Survey of Community Wellbeing and Responding to Change across six local government areas in Melbourne. The survey was prompted by Melbourne’s current challenge of managing urban growth while maintaining quality of life and promoting community wellbeing.
While focussed on Melbourne, the research highlights the importance of community resilience and adaptability to successfully maintaining liveability and wellbeing amid urban growth and change.
“The planning and engagement of a community in urban growth and having a shared sense that ‘this is our place and we are growing it together’ are vitally important,” Rosemary says.
It is still early days at Ginninderra, with many opportunities for the thoughts and ideas of the local community to be heard and included through the planning process.
A participatory process that nurtures the liveability needs of future residents as well as those of people living in the area now, will help to produce a good outcome.
Zeroing in on sustainable energy and emissions
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.
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:
- 6 kW roof -mounted solar panel array for electricity generation
- optimised building envelope design for the Victorian climate
- high-efficiency appliances
- smart meters and an integrated energy management and monitoring system
- high efficiency reverse cycle heating and cooling system
- high efficiency solar hot water system
- rainwater tanks for toilet flushing
- grey water recycling system
- a power charging system for an electric vehicle, the first Australian house to have this.
“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.