Talking about Trigeneration

An innovative building power system at Queensland’s new $1.2 billion Children’s Hospital could herald a shift to the smarter use of electricity in large commercial buildings across Australia

23 May 2012
AE Smith believes the use of a CHP (Combined Heat & Power) or trigeneration energy system it is developing at the new Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane will become a showcase for the future use of the technology which promises to radically cut energy costs while improving efficiency.

There is nothing new about making large commercial buildings run efficiently and more comfortably for tenants. Builders and designers have been doing it for centuries.

AE Smith has been helping building owners solve their heating, cooling, mechanical and energy efficiency challenges for 114 years. Privately owned AE Smith has contributed to some of Australia’s iconic buildings.

It believes that aside from the obvious carbon-reduction benefits of trigeneration, the new hospital will potentially reduce its exposure to an increasingly volatile and expensive electricity supply market characterised by higher network charges and new emissions trading costs.

The company says trigeneration will: help customers improve efficiency; reduce bills; cut greenhouse gas emissions; and aid those looking to attain high green-building credentials such as Green Star and NABERS energy ratings. AE Smith is at the forefront of providing this promising solution for Australian building owners.

Trigeneration is easily described as the simultaneous production of electricity, heating and cooling for buildings using a single fuel source (see diagram). Typically, the single fuel source is gas, which is much cleaner and more sustainable than most energy sources.

The design, installation and implementation of cogeneration and trigeneration energy systems has become a major part of the company’s portfolio of solutions.

Federal government reports indicate commercial buildings in Australia account for 19 per cent of energy use and just under 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The same reports estimate Australian cities could save up to 540 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years if more commercial buildings used cogeneration technologies.

Decentralised power generation such as trigeneration used in commercial buildings currently accounts for about 5 per cent of Australia’s total energy production, compared with over 40 per cent in The Netherlands and 55 per cent in Denmark.

AE Smith says the evidence suggests use of trigeneration technologies results in buildings functioning with more energy efficiency and lower tenant energy bills, attracts higher-quality tenants, and ultimately adds to the capital value of the property.

AE Smith points out there are three key benefits to trigeneration: less reliance on grid energy (energy security), lower CO2 emissions resulting from the elimination of long-distance power transmission, and long-term operating cost savings.

Large energy-intensive buildings such as hospitals, shopping centres, airports and hotels which are in constant use have the most to benefit from trigeneration, which utilises energy more efficiently than grid-delivered electricity.

The benefits of AE Smith’s trigeneration expertise and technology will be showcased in the new $1.2-billion, 350-bed Queensland Children’s Hospital, with the first patients due to arrive in 2015.

It is the latest addition to AE Smith’s impressive aged and healthcare portfolio, which includes iconic sites like the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Townsville General Hospital, and the new Royal Children’s Hospital recently opened in Melbourne by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

AE Smith says its work for the hospital will be large and complex and represents a milestone in the company’s commercial and technology development.

AE Smith Project Director Ashley Robinson believes the use of a trigeneration system in the landmark hospital will have a significant and long-term effect on the building and construction industry in Queensland and the rest of Australia.

How has the Queensland Children’s Hospital project been progressing thus far?

Ashley: As AE Smith was only awarded the contract towards the end of 2011, we are still in the very early stages; however, it’s been progressing well. We are currently in the design phase, which includes detailed design and full service coordination of the facility.

Can you give readers more details about the hospital’s trigeneration plant?

Ashley: The hospital’s trigeneration system will be the biggest of its type in Australia. Its 6-megavolt amp CHP unit powered through gas-fired engines produces heat for all the heating systems, chilled water for air conditioning, and 4.8 megawatts of electricity as well.

Why do you believe trigeneration is so important for the future of the building industry?

Ashley: Until we come up with alternatives, gas-fired energy is an economical, clean energy solution. The technology has been around for a long time. It has a lot of support in the marketplace already in terms of design capability, installation, and also service, which is very important when considering the maintenance of the system during its life cycle. It’s also an easier solution to implement on a new or existing facility than a
lot of other clean-energy solutions.

There is a lot of opportunity out there in the market, so naturally there is a lot of competition developing. A big strength for AE Smith is that we have a team in place right now with the right experience to deliver the complete cogeneration or trigeneration package for our customers. Our in-house capabilities include both electrical and mechanical engineering – electrical for grid synchronisation and power generation controls.

We have demonstrated that we can provide a single-source solution for the design, installation and implementation of decentralised power systems. For example, owing to our in-house capabilities with regard to electrical and power systems, we secured the confidence of the Queensland Children’s Hospital to install 12-MVA stand-by diesel power generators – a significant undertaking normally split between separate mechanical and electrical contractors, in this case assigned to AE Smith who will deliver a single source solution.

What does the future hold for the Queensland Children’s Hospital and AE Smith?

Ashley: With a wealth of hospital construction experience already under our belt and runs on the board with cogeneration plants delivered at King George Central and HQ Development, the Queensland Children’s Hospital project will be a career-defining moment for many in the AE Smith team. It is the single largest project ever undertaken by AE Smith.

Yes, there are challenges ahead, but we are taking them on at full throttle and putting all the right people in place to deliver.

Undoubtedly, the Queensland Children’s Hospital will find a special place in the hearts of many Queenslanders in the decades to come, and for AE Smith it already represents a pinnacle of achievement in our 114-year history so far.

This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of “Australia’s Best Building & Construction” magazine.