Reducing energy use and using renewable energy

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The very first example is provided by Malmö, a city of around 300,000 inhabitants in southeast Sweden that has the world’s first carbon neutral neighbourhood. Formerly a shipyard, this area – called Western Harbour – has been transformed from an industrial wasteland to an eco-district, and acts as a great example of sustainable living.

The first stage, built for the housing exhibition in 2001 and called Bo01, was designed to operate with 100% local renewable energy; solar photovoltaic panels and wind mill supply the electricity while an innovative district heating system utilising geothermal reservoirs underground and heat pumps meet the heating and cooling demands. In fact, Malmö aspires to run the whole city by renewable energy by 2030. Meeting this goal is assisted by reducing energy consumption in older building stock, such as the one in the Augustenborg, the first public housing area in the city. At the end of 1990’s, the refurbishment of 1600 apartments to improve energy efficiency (up to 35%) included upgrading of building facades and fitting of individual hot water metering.

In BedZED, the pioneering eco-village in southern London, the majority of the houses and flats are passively solar heated and highly insulated but also well ventilated using wind cowls on the roofs. Built in sustainability also includes a large set of photovoltaic panels. Other fantastic precint scale developments include the Vauban quarter in Freiburg, Germany and Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, Sweden.

In Australia, cities like Melbourne and Sydney have set renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets. A group of metropolitan Melbourne councils got together at the end of 2014 to open a direct dialogue with clean energy generators. These three councils – the City of Melbourne, City of Maribyrnong and City Of Yarra – want to supply combined demand of 100 GWh worth of electricity from renewable energy sources at similar or lower cost than fossil fuels. This new approach is expected to create a reliable demand for renewable energy, and hence give security for clean energy providers. It is can also drive down the costs for users, and considered to counteract the unfavourable renewable energy policies at both state and federal level.

Many businesses have also realised the opportunities to cut costs and make their operations more efficient by taking action to reduce energy use. CitySwitch is a free energy efficiency program that helps Australian commercial building tenants to do exactly that. An example of a business that has taken energy efficiency to heart is the Alto Hotel on Bourke in Melbourne CBD. It can boast to be the first carbon neutral hotel in the country with six star energy rating (within the national built environment rating system Nabers), low consuming LED TVs running fully on renewable energy, and air conditioning devices with movement sensors detecting and switching off when no one is the room.

At the level of an individual, Josh Byrne – known from ABC TV’s Gardening Australia show – set himself an ambitious target of building a ten star energy efficient home with conventional building materials and construction methods. Ten stars mean that the house has the highest energy rating in the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme, and that in turn signifies that the building does not need any additional heating or cooling to be comfortable throughout the year. In fact, the house produces more electricity than it consumes. Josh is on a mission to show that you can build resource efficient houses at a cost and timeframe comparable to typical houses.

Michael Mobbs’ home in Chippendale (in the middle of Sydney) is an existing urban house that was renovated to create an off the grid house incorporating solar power, water collection, waste water processing and food production. His house demonstrates that you can live in a sustainable manner in the city without sacrificing your lifestyle.

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Livewell started as an action research project funded by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Low Carbon Living, delivered through Curtin University and supported by the City of Yarra and Yarra Energy Foundation. Further funding was then provided by the CRC to produce the online Guide to running a ‘Livewell Group’

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