Monash University’s ongoing pursuit of sustainability has attracted the support of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Victorian Government.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed this month between the CEFC and Monash in support of the university’s Transformative Energy Initiative. The Victorian government also signed a separate MOU with the university to support the project, which will incorporate new energy technologies and smart microgrids.

“Microgrids give universities a chance to integrate electricity generation, storage and consumption,” CEFC chief executive Oliver Yates said.

“This creates a campus-wide grid solution that reduces dependence on the network, lowers energy costs and reduces emissions.”

Monash University president and vice-chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner said the university was “intent on developing innovative solutions to the challenges in energy and climate change facing our world”.

“We’re pleased to work with government and industry on the Monash Microgrid as we develop and advance the latest research to secure our energy future,” Professor Gardner said.

Monash’s manager engineering and sustainability, Dr Rob Brimblecombe, said the strategy for the initiative at the Clayton campus was framed around postgraduate research, and also partnering with industry to provide practical examples of how to transition the main grid and “unblock” the challenges the energy industry is experiencing.

Dr Brimblecombe said that because the university was essentially its “own city”, with a cross-section of major building typologies including commercial, residential, industrial, medical and recreation, it could provide an affordable case study for smart energy networks and microgrids.

There is also the potential for commercialising some of the software-based solutions the project develops, he said.

Work has already been underway on developing a campus sub-network, he said. The smart grid is the future, and the vision is of an energy network supplied by renewable energy that incorporates dynamic controls to manage energy loads.

In time, through incorporating energy storage and technology that enables shifting loads, the campus could potentially reach net zero.

Mandating high building standards

Energy efficient buildings are also part of the equation.

The campus has had a sustainable buildings policy in place since 2010 that has mandated all new buildings above $100 million in project cost must be certified to a suitable international sustainability standard.

There are currently eight Green Star rated buildings at the Clayton campus. These include The Briggs and Jackomos residences, Australia’s first multi-residential development to achieve a Green Star – Multi Unit Residential As Built v1 rating.

The Clayton campus is also home to the 6 Star Green Star New Horizons building, a joint venture with CSIRO that provides space for the Faculty of Engineering and CSIRO researchers, and also the Green Chemical Futures building. Four recently completed residential halls, Logan, Holman, Campbell and Turner, have also achieved Green Star ratings, Dr Brimblecombe said.

Looking into Passive House

The university also recently developed a commercial office space that has achieved Passive House certification.

Dr Brimblecombe said aiming for the PH standard was part of piloting approaches that can deliver more sustainable buildings.

Formerly a 1960s, asbestos-clad warehouse, the redevelopment has delivered a two-storey office building with sustainability credentials that have seen it this year nominated as a finalist in the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Awards, the Green Gown Awards and the Architecture and Design Sustainability Awards.

It features a 70 kilowatt rooftop solar array that generates around 70 per cent of its energy requirements, a heat recovery ventilation system, mechanical blinds to the north and east to manage heat gain and glare, and western and southern-facing double glazed windows for natural light in the workspace.

Dr Brimblecombe said the project was smaller than the budget size requiring a rating such as Green Star, making it ideal for a pilot.

“The building is our own Building and Property office, so we felt comfortable with the idea to test the Passive House principles,” he said.

The next step is to look at applying the principles in the university’s learning and teaching about buildings, he said.

The hope is the PH building can also achieve closer to net zero. The retention of mature trees around the building means it is at its safe and effective limits in terms of installing solar, Dr Brimblecombe said.

The next step is therefore to work on occupant behaviour change and tuning the mechanical systems again.

He said that overall, the focus on energy efficiency and green buildings has seen the university’s energy bills remain flat, even though the campus has expanded.

In terms of operational performance, he said the PH building was outperforming the Green Star-rated buildings for energy use.

One of the issues that has arisen with the Green Star buildings in terms of how operational performance measures up to design expectations is that the energy models are based on the general nine-to-five commercial office energy use profile, he said.

University buildings do not match this profile in terms of use, he said. For example, some laboratories operate 24/7. This means they use more than the energy profile predicted.

At the same time, Dr Brimblecombe said that Green Star had changed the building industry.

“I would say Green Star has done a great job of driving the industry generally up to the standard,” he said.

He said now the question was how to push the next step.

Campus-wide water infrastructure

In addition to initiatives around green buildings and energy, the campus is in the process of developing a campus-wide harvested water network.

It has a total of three megalitres of rainwater storage. The plan is to interconnect those storages and do some water mining so the campus can make the most of its water capture, Dr Brimblecombe said.

The water is currently used for toilet flushing, irrigation and cooling, he said.

Beyond the individual projects and plans, the university was also in the process of “designing the grand plan” for sustainability, he said.