Getting low on carbon - graduate to reduce energy use

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25 Sep 2017

An Ara graduate will attempt to save the institute $100,000 a year in energy costs through better energy management.

Ara electrical Engineering graduate Sagar Patel has been employed through an agreement between Ara and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), the government agency that works to improve the energy efficiency of New Zealand's homes and businesses, and encourages the uptake of renewable energy.

“I will basically look after the agreement, establish an energy baseline and recommend strategies for energy conservation,” Patel said.

ECCA has assisted in many large scale energy conservation projects across New Zealand, helping Christchurch International Airport to save $200,000 in energy costs a year and Christchurch Casino $138,000 – and those are just the dollar savings. The interventions also resulted in more comfortable environments for staff and customers and contributed to New Zealand reducing its carbon footprint.

Newer parts of the Ara campus exemplify a more sustainable approach, Patel believes. “The Kahukura (Engineering and Architectural Studies Facility) is a beautiful building that utilises modern technology. The solar panels can produce up to 600 kilowatts a day – that’s the equivalent to 10 to 12 New Zealand houses.”

However, there is also plenty of room for improvement. Patel will monitor heating, electricity and renewable energy use at Ara to determine where energy can be saved. Calculating carbon emissions is another important aspect of the role.

It is a dream job for Patel who came to Christchurch from Gujarat, India after a family member studied engineering at Ara and recommended the institute to him. He will attend the EECA Large Energy Users Forum in Nelson, which is a valuable opportunity to learn from senior energy management professionals.

“I always wanted to go into renewable energy for future sustainability. Electrical engineering is my passion. Electrical engineering covers a huge scope, but my final year project was solar water heating, so that gave me an advantage for this role.”

Only a few months into the role and his horizons have broadened, along with awareness of the importance of his work. “Most people are not thinking about even five years ahead, they are only thinking about today,” he said. And yet, changes can involve both infrastructure and simple behaviour changes according to ECCA’s guidelines.  

Facilities staff have embraced the new initiative. “I’m working with a very experienced team. Plant and Utilities Supervisor Ian Milne has 39 years’ experience here, but he is open to new suggestions.”

Christchurch Casino achieved an 18.5% reduction in electricity use and over 1 gigawatt hour in energy savings per year through making changes to existing air-conditioning controls, fresh air intake and lighting and installing a new, very efficient air handling unit on the main gaming floor. The changes made the environment more comfortable and quieter.

Christchurch Airport saved 8.2 % of annual energy use and 8.8 % of the annual energy bill, mostly through improving 24 hour heating and cooling systems. All implementation costs were recouped within six months.

ECCA has made funding available to support energy efficiency and renewable energy projects across the public sector, saving the sector some $9m in the last five years.

ECCA’s agreement with Ara will support design advice for Campus Master Plan redevelopment and provide scholarships for engineers, project managers, architects, quantity surveyors and construction industry participants to attend Creating Living Buildings courses to upskill on leading edge sustainable building.

Ara is a member of Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS) and uses their Learning in Future Environments (LiFE) frameworks to embed sustainable practice across learning design, leadership, partnership/engagement, communications and operations at the institute. Patel is keen to engage the staff, students and community of Ara in the energy conservation work as part of his role.

Energy management is one part of the sustainability jigsaw at Ara, however success is also about engaging students and staff in behaviour change, Ara Sustainability Manager Shaun Bowler says.

“Managing energy wisely through small investments can pay for itself many times over. We can be environmentally and financially sustainable at the same time. And it’s not just about technology – everyone at Ara can play their part, through suggestions, and taking energy saving tips from work back into the home and schools.

“We’ll know we’re succeeding when all staff are aware and engaged in energy management, and we’re ready to celebrate our success on energy campaigns, competitions and awards.”