A 1.4MW trigeneration plant built to power, heat and cool Sydney’s Town Hall and Town Hall House is now in full operation, nearly four-and-a-half years after the City of Sydney first launched its then nation-leading plans to halve its electricity emissions and slash its dependence on the grid.
In a statement on Thursday, the City of Sydney said the trigen plant – which uses renewable gas made from excess waste as its fuel – had been gradually phased in over the past three months and was now fully supplying the City’s civic buildings, housing 1,500 employees, on working weekdays from 7am to 10pm.
But the project – which was originally conceived as a city-wide trigeneration network – hasn’t been all smooth sailing, meeting opposition from some renewable energy circles, and even being shelved at one point due to economic and regulatory hurdles.
A modified version of the plan – to install a rooftop trigen plant to power Sydney Town Hall, its offices, electric vehicle fleet and indoor pools – was eventually endorsed by Council in February 2014, backed by a federal government grant of just over $3 million.
The rooftop plant uses seven 200kW capstone micro-turbines that can each turn down to a tenth of their total power output, meaning they can follow the electrical demand in the building during both summer and winter months.
The Council has also installed a total of 1.25MW of solar PV panels across 30 local government owned sites within its boundaries, as part of its effort to cut carbon and gain reduce its reliance on the grid.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the 1,400 kilowatt trigen system – designed and installed by building services contractor AE Smith – should cut carbon emissions by more than 40,000 tonnes over its 30-year lifetime, producing less than half the emissions of the coal-fired plants that generate around 80 per cent of Sydney’s electricity.
“Installing trigeneration power at Town Hall is already helping us reduce our reliance on coal-generated energy hauled in from the Hunter Valley and allows us to power, heat and cool our buildings from a clean, local supply,” Moore said on Thursday.
“As well as meeting (Council HQ’s) weekday energy needs … the rooftop generation plant is ready to export significant amounts of electricity to the grid. This could help manage peak power demands and defer costly investment in electricity network upgrades,” she said.
“Trigeneration is part of our practical portfolio of sustainability programs to cut carbon emissions by 70 per cent based on 2006 levels, along with building retrofits for energy efficiency, installing solar panels on the buildings we own and offsetting carbon emissions.
“We’re leading by example. The City is Australia’s first carbon-neutral government and we’ve already reduced emissions in our own buildings and operations by 27 per cent on 2006 levels.”
As Moore notes, Trigeneration is already in use across Sydney, including at commercial buildings like Qantas Flight Services, Google, 1 Bligh Street, t 133 Castlereagh Street, 20 Bond Street; leading community clubs and local governments buildings.
While some have argued the Council should be using renewable energy sources only, like wind and solar, Moore and her chief clean energy architect Allan Jones have argued that trigen is an extremely efficient decentralised energy technology.
Their plans to roll it out city-wide, however, were frustrated by what the Council described as the “crippling regulations” governing local energy generation and sharing.
“The business case for Council, community and business to deliver local energy projects generating local jobs is there,” Moore wrote in an opinion piece published in The Guardian in February 2014. “Unfortunately, the rules governing how we can do this are strangled in ‘green tape’.
“To share energy we need to export it across the electricity grid, but the rules were drawn up years ago for big power stations. They are anti-competitive, increasing our emissions and power bills,” she wrote. “We need the help of our state and federal governments to get rid of this crippling regulation.”
Jones, who was the City’s chief development officer, energy and climate change, said city-wide trigeneration networks had proven to be safe, reliable and cost-effective in various cities around the world, like New York, Seoul and Berlin.
“These networks help provide security of supply during extreme weather or climate events,” Jones said in 2014. “The precinct trigeneration network supplying Co-op City in the Bronx in New York continued to supply energy to 60,000 residents, six schools, three shopping centres and the police precinct when the electricity grid’s poles and wires were knocked out for several weeks by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.”
“The City would like to see precinct trigeneration in Sydney and we will continue to push for regulatory barriers to be removed.”