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WA Councils reduce aquatic centre running costs

September 13, 2012

In Western Australia, EMC Engineering has helped a number of councils to define solutions to tackle rising energy costs in their aquatic centres.

For example, the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder uses a typical natural gas boiler to heat two indoor swimming pools at its Goldfields Oasis facility while its outdoor pools are unheated. Natural gas in Kalgoorlie is much more expensive than in the metropolitan area and this was a key driver in the search for technology to offset gas use. Natural gas cogeneration was modelled, but due to the high gas cost and competitive electricity cost at the centre it was found that on-site power generation would be more expensive than grid power. However, Kalgoorlie's very warm summer climate enabled the use of direct solar heating to supply a large proportion of power in summer, and a smaller proportion of winter heat use.

With a lot more heat required in winter than in summer, solar thermal was not able to meet a large enough proportion of annual energy requirements and other technologies not affected by ambient temperatures were required to meet this load. Ground source heat pumps use the constant temperature of the ground as the source of heat energy. In Kalgoorlie, low ambient temperatures in the evening and early morning mean that the ground is a very efficient heat source at the times when heating is required. Another advantage of heat pumps is that they can be used efficiently at night using cheap, off-peak power.

The overall result was that by using solar thermal heat in summer; heat pumps mainly in winter; and the existing natural gas boiler only to meet winter peak demand; natural gas use for pool heating could be reduced by 80%. Carbon emissions were a key driver for the City and because heat pumps use electricity, the City decided to displace carbon intensive grid electricity by using solar photovoltaic technology on site.

In a similar way a unique solution was found for the Fremantle Leisure Centre. Much of Perth is geologically fortunate to be situated on a warm aquifer system and a number of Perth swimming pools already exploit this resource. However, drilling down about a kilometre to the aquifer is a risky and expensive exercise. EMC found that in Fremantle shallower aquifers (around 200 metres deep) can provide water warm enough to be used in a heat pump. The water is extracted and passed through the heat pump and then re-injected into the ground. Natural gas prices are relatively cheap in Perth compared to electricity prices, so cogeneration makes sense here, which helped to reduce emissions from electricity.

By contrast, at the Shire of Manjimup in the State's south west region, the situation was different again. The town does not have access to piped natural gas and heating at the Manjimup Regional Aquacentre had been done using air source heat pumps. However, because of low ambient temperatures these heat pumps are inefficient on the cold winter nights and mornings when they are most needed and the strain on the units during winter was causing substantial maintenance problems and costs for the Shire. For this installation, the model had to be based on the efficiency of the existing heat pumps and was modified accordingly. An energy audit was conducted to determine the non-heating power use because sub-metering was not available.

The facility's roof was not suitable for solar heating and it was found that the only low emissions technology would be ground source heat pumps. Ground source heat pumps are much more expensive than air source heat pumps but are about twice as efficient. The resultant halving of energy costs has deliver much needed savings to the Shire.

The application of the model to a number of centres has shown that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for pools. The natural advantages of each centre need to be exploited be they solar, geothermal or cheap access to natural gas. It is also found that to make the most significant changes, no one technology can be a silver bullet. Managers are regularly approached by equipment providers claiming that their brand of technology is the answer. A technology 'agnostic' energy assessment can help validate the claims of equipment vendors and determine which combination of technologies provides the most cost effective and sustainable solution.

Outlined in a feature 'Keeping the costs down' in the July/August 2012 issue of Australasian Leisure Management, author Greg Benvenuti, EMC Engineering's Senior Engineer/Manager – Goldfields Region, explains how the energy costs of running a public swimming pool are likely to be its largest non-labour cost.

Benvenuti writes "for Councils, the energy costs of a public swimming pool can be up to 50% of electricity costs and 80% of gas costs and, with energy costs rising much faster than general inflation, this expenditure has the ability to dramatically affect the bottom line of any centre."

Benvenuti believes aquatic centre managers to make the most of Federal Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Community Energy Efficiency Grants (CEEP) which can contribute up to half the costs of energy-saving costs.

For more information contact Greg Benvenuti on 1300 558 687 or go to www.energymadeclean.com

Image: Solar panels on the roof of the Goldfields Oasis. 

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