Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC&R) are notoriously energy-intensive, consuming a considerable percentage of Australia’s electricity and producing substantial emissions. Yet a new initiative led by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) in conjunction with CSIRO, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong and supported by Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) aims to change this, and facilitate the HVAC&R’s Industry’s transition to a low-emissions future.

The three-year project’s budget of $18 million includes cash and in-kind contributions of nearly $12 million from the participating institutions.

“The Innovation Hub for Affordable Heating and Cooling (i-Hub) is designed to facilitate the HVAC&R’s industry’s transition to a low-emissions future, stimulate jobs growth, and showcase HVAC&R innovation in buildings,” says AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH.

“The objective of i-Hub is to support the broader HVAC&R industry with knowledge dissemination, skills development and capacity building. By facilitating a collaborative approach to innovation, i-Hub brings together leading universities, researchers, consultants, building owners and equipment manufacturers to create a connected research and development community in Australia.”

The i-Hub will focus on a series of projects in the area of healthcare, education and data centre sectors that have the potential to deliver hundreds of megawatts of demand response – from the i-Hub project’s building owner participants – at a fraction of the cost of other approaches.

“The i-Hub project brings a uniquely concerted effort from the HVAC&R and property industries to use the design and operation of air conditioning services as a tool for supporting onsite and local grid renewables,” Gleeson says.

“Through the deferral of HVAC&R loads – during renewable energy supply shortages – and the use of HVAC&R loads as a ‘productive source of demand’ during periods of excess supply, this project will increase the value of onsite renewable energy production and increase the fraction of building energy that can be economically provided by onsite renewable energy.”

The i-Hub will develop capability for the HVAC&R industry to continue to innovate, beyond the project’s three-year lifespan. It will do this through the establishment of Living Laboratory facilities; a Data Clearing House digital platform; and an integrated Design Process that has renewable energy and building efficiency at its core.

The Living Laboratory facilities will serve as hosts for validating emerging products in front of major building portfolio owners. The Data Clearing House is designed to enable data-driven renewable energy optimisation analytics and control applications.

The Integrated Design Process will allow design consultants and building owners to manage the risk of delivering innovative building and system design solutions, that have renewable energy and building efficiency at their core.
Substantial contributions from the property industry reflect a strong desire to progress with onsite renewable energy integration.

“With rising electricity costs putting further pressure on consumers and businesses, the i-Hub vision is to help make a positive impact by supporting Australian innovation,” Gleeson says. “This will deliver superior comfort, better energy efficiency – and therefore lower running costs – and minimise peak demand.”

In total, this project will deliver a multi-dimensional pilot demonstration program and business case evaluation, for guiding National Electricity Market (NEM) planners on where to find and how to implement HVAC&R demand response across the National Electricity Market, and unlocking hundreds of megawatts of previously untapped flexible load.

i-Hub is open to applications from industry participants who have suitable demonstration projects that require co-funding. Proposals will be considered under one of three activity streams: Living Laboratories, Integrated Design Studios and a Buildings to Grid Data Clearing House.