IN THE SCI-FI THRILLER The Matrix, the familiar tableau of everyday life was an illusion created by an alien force that had taken over the world. While Adelaide is certainly not under the control of an extraterrestrial power, beneath its change-resistant surface the forces of sustainability are exerting an increasing influence.
Over the first week of December a series of conferences and workshops in the city addressed all manner of sustainability issues, from biofuels and water use to green buildings and evolving technologies to better assess, monitor and manage building performance and its impact on the environment. And zooming low and fast under the radar of promotional hype came clear evidence of a "no turning back" commitment to making sustainability work -- and pay.
The activity that will generate the fastest and most noticeable impact on energy and resource use - and, therefore, the most effective tool for business and community education - is the escalating use of assessment, monitoring and management processes and technologies that are opening the mysteries of our buildings for all to see. Environmentally, it's not a pretty sight.
A building is just a "box for activity", as SA Property Council chief Bryan Moulds says. Unfortunately, as building owners and managers are discovering, most of our existing stock are insatiable consumers of money and resources. In a typical urban conglomerate, buildings and their occupants are responsible for 42 per cent of the total energy consumed, 12 per cent of water use and 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Australia is the biggest resource gobbler of this type per capita in the world, in the same way that Adelaide dumps more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere per capita than any other city on the planet. Poor building design, poor management systems and poor maintenance regimes are the major cause. An estimated 25 per cent of an office building's water consumption, for example, is due to leaks in pipes and fittings.
A combination of the introduction of comprehensive building rating systems such as ABGR and Green Star, the ceaseless quest by building owners and managers to reduce operating costs, and increasing pressure from informed tenants and regulatory agencies to reduce environmental impacts has spawned a revolution that transcends national and state boundaries - building performance being assessed, measured and corrected in a policy loop.
The Sustainability Conference provided the first public affirmation that Adelaide is playing its part in this game of very high stakes. The owners of 10 buildings were acknowledged for taking part in the Green City Program's Adelaide Building Tune Ups project - the first of its type in Australia - where buildings representing 15 per cent of the tenanted space of CBD have been assessed for their energy and water consumption and given a star rating under the national ratings systems AGBR (greenhouse emissions) and NABERS (water). The aim is to identify where improvements can be made and then implement an upgrading program that will lift the building's rating by a minimum one star in each area.
The findings on the individual buildings - Telstra House, KPMG Building, Adelaide Bank and Savings & Loans head offices, 22 King William St, Riverside Centre, EDS Building, State Administration Centre, Citi Centre and Roma Mitchell House - have not been made public because of commercial sensitivities. But the first stage of the project has found that the combined "tuning-up" of the 10 buildings could deliver energy savings of $840,000 a year, reduce greenhouse emissions by almost 6500 tonnes and knock $36,000 off the water bill by saving 48 million litres a year.
While the project marketing of new buildings in Adelaide boasts of environmental performance ratings and ambitions, existing buildings comprise 95 per cent of the total stock, and they face a growing threat to their sustainability that is often more complex and less glamorous in its resolution than starting afresh. From the Adelaide 10 will come lessons, insights and PR leverage that will lubricate the drivers of change, especially as office vacancy rates increase when the new developments come on stream and the remainder face the prospect of declining capital value if they are off the pace environmentally.
A more proactive case study in terms of its focus on pushing the envelope of efficiency (rather than reducing historic waste) was illustrated by Dr Tim Cooper, project director for the family brewing company's plant relocation from Leabrook to Regency Park. Coopers built a new brew house 2.5 times the capacity of the Leabrook operation yet 10 per cent more energy-efficient. The key is an innovative power source that generates energy cost savings, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and puts excess power into the grid. Its project partner AGL built, owns and operates a 4.4mw "co-generation" power plant at Regency Park that utilises waste heat from its gas-powered turbine and converts it to steam which generates further power. As Coopers draws just 6000Mw of the 24,000Mw output, the rest is exported to the state grid - enough to power 3000 average households for a year. Already recognised as world best-practice, says Dr Cooper, the Regency Park plant could be taken to another level and adapted for "triple co-generation"- taking excess steam produced and converting it to water for cooling.
As buildings are scrutinised and analysed they are broken down into their energy cost centres. Heating and cooling account for 50 per cent of a building's energy costs; traditional cooling-tower systems soak up 30 per cent of water consumption. In this context a revolutionary evaporation-based airconditioning system invented in Adelaide and developed by local firm Air Con Serve has the potential to make a difference on a global scale. The Shaw Method of Airconditioning (SMAC) system installed by Air Con Serve is operating with spectacular results in two complex structures in Australia - the Art Gallery of South Australia and Barmera Hospital - and is currently being installed by a joint-venture partner in major buildings in the Thai capital of Bangkok.
Wayne Ryan of Air Con Serv is the public face of SMAC; its champion. After knocking on industry and government doors across the state (and being knocked back more times than not) he won the high-profile job he needed to put the exceptional performance of SMAC in lights. Ryan credits former gallery chief Ron Radford for having faith that a local invention could turn AGSA into a world leader in exhibition climate control and energy efficiency. And it did. One day before the Sustainability Conference, Ryan's prediction that he would reduce the gallery's power consumption by 50 to 60 per cent was confirmed by official data that set the savings at 60 per cent. The savings in gas consumption was 70 per cent, and water use in the cooling tower was reduced by 30 per cent. The improvement in temperature and humidity control was so great as to eliminate the need for building works to counter the anticipated infiltration of outside air. The Art Gallery of SA is now the most energy-efficient A Class gallery in the country and, according to Ryan, perhaps the world. Air Con Serv is fielding interest from other galleries and museums in Australia, but the results from the installations in the challenging, high-humidity climate of Bangkok are what Ryan is hoping will put his technology and its benefits at the forefront of green-building science around the world.
As Wayne Ryan extolled the virtues of the Shaw system, somewhere across town a standard Serco bus was going about its daily business powered by biodiesel -- a fuel created from the reaction of vegetable oils and tallows with alcohol. Biodiesel is produced and distributed by local firm Australian Farmers Fuels (SAFF). As the bus trial has so far confirmed, compared with petroleum diesel Biodiesel is environmentally friendly, more efficient as a fuel, provides equivalent engine performance, and its superior lubricant properties result in longer engine life.
The environmental attributes of Biodiesel are that it is fully renewable, non-toxic and biodegradable, safer through lower flammability, and produces a fraction of the exhaust pollutants associated with diesel engines. In its purest form - 100 per cent canola oil - Biodiesel B100 is claimed to reduce air toxicity by 70 per cent, greenhouse gases by 80 per cent, and black smoke by 55 per cent. Below the premium level, Biodiesel is 80 per cent canola and the balance a blend of tallows and other vegetable oils.
So far as SAFF's enthusiastic but frustrated biofuels consultant Mike Jureidini is concerned, all that stands between the bus trial and the full public transport bus fleet switching to Biodiesel is state government inertia. Bio-chemist Jureidini effortlessly sings the facts and figures he has been quoting to anyone who will listen over the past five years: "Biodiesel is 100 per cent Australian-made, and helps reduce our dependence on oil and gas reserves. Increased production and usage will create employment and economic growth, primarily in regional and rural centres. Decreasing our dependence on imports by `growing our own fuel' helps our balance of payments and, considering the state of the world, it helps to provide energy security."
SAFF initially conducted trials in consultation with the Australian Greenhouse Office, testing the blending properties of canola oil with diesel. In 1999, Jureidini started producing high-grade biodiesel from waste cooking oil. SAFF then developed a biodiesel processing system. It has since begun experimenting with a blend of biodiesel and clean-burning propane that, in what it claims as a world-first, is currently being used to power one of its own Mack fuel-tankers and local farmer Brendan Moloney's header-harvester.
As the petroleum diesel distributor in SA, SAFF still maintains supply for the traditionalists but manages to get an increasing number of them onto premium diesel or B20, which is 20 per cent biodiesel and a superior performer to ultra-low-sulphur diesel, the petroleum industry's attempt at a less environmentally destructive fuel. It is a start, as is the growing number of commercial biodiesel supporters, such as Torrens Transit, wool processors G H Michells, Buses R Us and Mt Gambier loggers G&R. The ultimate aim for SAFF is to convert the diesel engines, generators and machinery of primary and secondary industry in SA to a clean and renewable fuel that can be sourced from local crops; a green domestic energy industry.
Then there is the potential for motorists to be encouraged to drive diesel cars at the rate they do in Europe. As with all existing petroleum diesel engines, there is no engine modification required for them to run on biodiesel. If you want to know more, ask Michael Jureidini. But, as with Wayne Ryan, don't ask him when the state government is going to awaken from its torpor and grab these sustainability bulls by the horns. He's been asking the same thing.
A further benefit of the rapid advance in sustainability rating and measurement systems, and their inevitable incorporation into development codes and professional charters, is that compliance with environmental requirements will be easier to assess for government agencies and industry regulators. Government especially has been a soft touch for developers who promise to meet broad energy and environmental benchmarks that at completion, years later, aren't achieved or can't be quantified. Take the much-hyped Mawson Lakes, the fruit of the loins of long-time lovers Delfin and the government's Land Management Corporation. In the relevant government department, and at Parliament House, it is common knowledge that far from being the energy-efficient exemplar of a new-millennium community, Mawson Lakes has been assessed as having an energy performance below that of a comparable project housing estate.
As the new Advertiser building taking shape in Weymouth St is proving, if rateable environmental design is not the foundation element of a building's design brief, it will be too late to achieve it at construction phase. At the last minute Rupert Murdoch decided his parting gift to Adelaide was going to be an iconic green building; he threw many more millions at the project than the original budget. Unfortunately, building research has shown that when just one per cent of a development's up-front costs have been outlayed, 70 per cent of the lifecycle costs have already been set; at the seven per cent stage, 85 per cent of the life costs have been determined. No matter how it is tweaked, insiders say, the Advertiser building will not achieve a five-star rating; reaching its publicly declared four-star benchmark is proving to be enough of a problem.