Student Project Opportunity: Energy Production and Consumption in the 6-star Frank Fenner Building

[NOTE: This project is no longer available and has been undertaken by Clare Paynter of the School of Engineering]


Smart, Green Buildings

One of the more interesting responses to the age of changing climate, rising energy costs and a general uptake in interest for energy efficiency, has been the evolution of the construction industry.  In the past decade, a shift in the paradigm of building design has left us with a whole host of new structures who have innovative designs in lighting, HVAC, windows, on-site production, etc.

The Resulting Challenge

But one of the gaping holes in this area is in the realm of user feedback and the follow-up on how the building is actually performing once it is completed and occupants have moved in. 

From an economic perspective, this makes sense.  Whose financial responsibility is it to educate building occupants on the design and behaviour of their building?  The designer’s responsibility ends when the building construction contract is completed.  The construction company finishes the building, gives it a short warranty period and steps back.  Occupants move in and are likely given a brief overview of the building features, but feedback ends there.  Administration teams likely have manuals they can read from about the building – but are they trained for these tasks?  Energy is complicated stuff!

The Frank Fenner Building at The Australian National University

The Frank Fenner Building at The Australian National University

Energy Usage at the Frank Fenner Building

I am fortunate enough to have a front row seat to this type of situation. Here at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, we are closing in on two years of occupational use of the Frank Fenner Building.  The building has very recently been awarded a six-star accreditation for its design and soon should hear back on its accreditation for ‘as built’.

Hindmarsh, the company who built the building, has done an excellent job with the structure. The base building appears to be using less energy than was originally modeled , the solar array on the rooftop (installed by Laros Technologies) is producing more electricity than expected and the building has operated very smoothly without any major glitches.  As an occupant of the building, I am very pleased with the comfort level of my office space and the natural lighting available to me.

My plants love the natural lighting

My plants love the natural lighting

But, in general, users of the building seem to be fairly unaware of the energy efficiency features in place, and certainly are lacking any feedback on their personal contributions to the electrical load of the building.  They haven’t seen any numbers on building performance, nor have they had the opportunity for individual user audits.

Window 'stoplight', thermostat, motion sensor

Window 'stoplight', thermostat, motion sensor

Despite this, the building has actually produced about 2/3 of the electrical energy it has consumed over the past year (see my blog post).  With a bit of user feedback and some modifications to the structure, I believe we could get to net-zero electricity usage.

Daily energy usage versus solar energy production

Daily energy usage versus solar energy production

And this is where the Fenner Honours Project opportunity comes in.  With its building accreditation now awarded, there is an opportunity to modify the building’s operational parameters.  Things such as heating/cooling, lighting, etc may now be tweaked in order to optimize energy usage.  Hindmarsh has offered to provide direct support in this process.  In addition to that, occupancy feedback has been non-existent.   But ANUgreen is close to finalizing a system that will be capable of providing user feedback to building occupants, and will support any extensions of this at local level.

The 'Dashboard' system live in Lena-Karmel Lodge

The 'Dashboard' system live in Lena-Karmel Lodge

These types of changes could make a big difference, but in order to do it correctly, there first needs to be an analysis of how the building has been performing.  This is the first stage of the Honours Project!  The chosen student will complete an in-depth analysis of energy usage and consumption in the building.  Then, in response to this analysis, the student will work with Hindmarsh and ANUgreen to modify the building and occupancy behaviours to reduce overall energy usage.

The results from this project will be written up and submitted to a scientific journal as a case-study in green building energy management. 

Interested applicants should send me an email!

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