Working up a sweat to bring down temperatures in remote Australia

By Natalie Kikken

4 July 2016

5 minute read

With building temperatures hitting 50 degrees Celsius in some remote parts of Australia, we are creating ways to keep buildings cooler and people more comfortable (not involving a bucket of water!)

With building temperatures hitting 50 degrees Celsius in some remote parts of Australia, we are creating ways to keep buildings cooler and people more comfortable (not involving a bucket of water!).

Putting the kettle on for a cuppa, heaters keeping us toasty in winter or ramping up the air-con in summer to keep us cool – all of these appliances make our lives much more comfortable.

Those of us living in cities or well-connected areas have access to a steady and abundant energy supply. We often don’t have to think twice when we flick a switch to power our homes, even if that means higher energy bills and lower energy efficiency.

In remote areas, access to affordable electricity is more challenging and can be affected by geography, population density, harsh climate and availability of renewable resources. Weather conditions in particular can play havoc on building energy efficiency. That’s why we’re helping create change for the better through Enterprise Energy Futures.

All in a day’s work: researcher Dr Peter Osman prepares to access data from 100 temperature and humidity sensors to determine energy efficiency in remote community buildings such as the Akay Koo’oila studio

All in a day’s work: Researcher Dr Peter Osman prepares to access data from 100 temperature and humidity sensors to determine energy efficiency in remote community buildings such as the Akay Koo’oila studio.

Injecting energy for better liveability

We are tackling some of the energy challenges facing remote parts of Australia through our partnership with the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP). We’ll deliver practical energy solutions in Central Australia and Far North Queensland with a focus on reducing energy costs and improving liveability in tropical and sub-tropical remote regions.

Where building temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius (10 more degrees and you could fry an egg on the footpath!), it is easy to understand why a high proportion of electricity is used for air-conditioning and to supply fresh water. Conventional energy sources such as diesel are becoming increasingly unsustainable, so we are equipping households and community-based enterprises with energy management resources.

Maximising cost-effective design: along with the visible window shades, another set of windows behind them open to improve natural ventilation

Maximising cost-effective design: Along with the visible window shades, another set of windows behind them open to improve natural ventilation.

Monitoring is the key

To get a better picture of what is happening, Dr Peter Osman from our Energy team has been conducting research in four enterprise buildings in remote communities to assess how and when energy is used, and to make it more accessible and efficient.

Enterprise Energy Futures research is happening in Cardwell, Aurukun, Haasts Bluff and Papunya.

Enterprise Energy Futures research is happening in Cardwell, Aurukun, Haasts Bluff and Papunya.

To do this, he has set up:

The data we’ve collated so far is telling us that some current building designs are more suitable for cooler climates so are counterproductive in hot climates when it comes to energy efficiency. Many community buildings in remote areas can often get hotter than the outside temperature, with the roof temperature hitting 50 degrees Celsius for significant parts of the day. Appliance maintenance is very costly and hard to obtain (with some equipment posing as a safety hazard due to catching on fire!), so we are identifying effective alternatives.

The colourful tropics: infared cameras set up in Far North Queensland confirm that there is a lack of low emissivity foil insulation in many remote work places

The colourful tropics: Infared cameras set up in Far North Queensland confirm that there is a lack of low emissivity foil insulation in many remote work places.

Integrating better systems

The buildings are used for commercial and residential purposes such as council buildings, art studios, work sheds and meeting places so the current conditions do not bode well for pleasant working environments. So what can we do to improve the efficiency of these buildings and to make them more comfortable?

Traditional Indigenous buildings can in fact offer cost-effective benefits and inform building design for remote communities. The community is planning to install solar PV and we will help measure the impact. We are recommending better use of low-emissivity roof linings and programmed ventilation using outside air to cool buildings at night during summer. We are also advising on how to make better use of shade plants, shrubs and awnings. Other improvements include cross ventilation in breeze block buildings (also known as concrete masonry units) and moving away from evaporative cooling to heat pump cooling to make maintenance easier, safer and more sustainable – and most importantly, more affordable.

Affordable energy for all Australians

Some people living in remote areas of Australia do not have enough money to buy electricity all of the time. Northern Queensland is connected to the National Electricity Market while the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia are served by a collection of isolated grids serving communities, outstations and mining operations.

We want to help all Australians access low-cost and secure electricity by providing strategic advice and knowledge for government, industry and communities to create better energy outcomes in remote communities while driving energy efficiency.

Our involvement with Enterprise Energy Futures comprises part of our work to unlock the potential of northern Australia by studying new generations of energy systems that are suited to the unique challenges and opportunities for the region.

We are exploring pathways to high-efficiency, low-carbon electricity solutions to unleash the potential of Australia’s north, both domestically and for export. Read about our exciting research that will provide a pathway to transform our future energy network.