La Trobe University unveils $75m net zero emissions plan

Victoria’s La Trobe University has unveiled an ambitious $75 million plan to become Victoria’s first tertiary education facility to reach net zero emissions, setting a target date for 2029 – one year ahead of rival Monash University’s own 2030 goal.

La Trobe unveiled the 20-project plan on Tuesday, including the installation of more than 7,000 solar panels on 27 buildings across the University’s Bundoora campus, starting next week.

This will add to the solar panels already installed at La Trobe’s regional campuses in Mildura, Shepparton, Bendigo and Albury Wodonga, the University said, and a large-scale composter at Bundoora, which will cut that campus’ emissions by diverting all organic waste from landfill.

Perhaps most significantly, La Trobe said it was in the early stages of investigating the feasibility of building its own large-scale solar farms, given the University’s “significant landholdings” across the state.

Beyond generating its own emissions-free electricity, La Trobe says it will “progressively install” more than 50 000 high-efficiency low cost LED lights in and around University buildings to permanently reduce overall power consumption.

It will also  harness its “in-house research and technology expertise” to reduce emissions, largely via the under development  La Trobe Energy Analytics Platform (LEAP), that will monitor energy usage in up to 50 smart buildings, and use real time smart controls to reduce consumption.

“La Trobe recognises the social, environment and economic importance of reducing our carbon footprint. That’s why we have set an ambitious target to become the first University in Victoria to meet this important goal,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar in comments on Tuesday.

“Not only is reducing our carbon emissions the right thing to do, it also makes good economic and environmental sense.

“Rather than simply buy carbon credits, we’ve got a clear plan for action and we are making genuine, local changes to become more efficient and make a deliberate switch to renewables.”

The announcement comes less than one week after fellow Victorian university, Monash, officially launched its industry-leading microgid, which includes Australia’s largest behind-the-meter energy storage system.

The $7.1 million Monash Smart Energy City project – which has won grant funding from both ARENA and the Victorian state government – aims to connect 20 buildings across the Clayton campus and run them entirely on the University’s own smart embedded network of renewables and storage, using the Advanced Grid Management software platform of Indra Australia.

As we wrote here late last year, the microgrid’s impressive storage system – designed and installed inside a campus building by redT Energy – combines a 180kW/900kWh vanadium redox flow battery system and a 120kW/120kWh C1-rated lithium battery.

Initially, the storage will be used mainly to maximise the university’s use of on-site generated solar power, but ultimately, the plan is to use it to provide balancing services to the network, bring in additional revenue for Monash, and take part in energy trading.

(You can read in detail about the Monash project here.)

On top of the on-campus microgrid, Monash has also committed to buy green energy from the Murra Warra Wind Farm in Victoria, in deal struck in July last year to purchase both electricity and large-scale renewable energy certificates (REC’s).

Elsewhere around Australia, numerous other universities are also setting their own goals to slash emissions and switch to renewable energy – both via their own solar and wind assets and through PPAs.

Last year the University of Queensland revealed plans to build a 64MW solar farm, a project that will see it become the first major university in the world to offset 100 per cent of its electricity usage through its own renewable energy asset.

The University of Newcastle, meanwhile, in New South Wales, is on track to meet its target of sourcing 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2020, after signing a seven-year supply contract for a mix of solar, wind and hydro power with Snowy Hydro subsidiary, Red Energy.

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