Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC&R) are notoriously energy-intensive, consuming a considerable percentage of Australia’s electricity and producing substantial emissions. A new initiative aims to facilitate the industry’s transition to a low-emissions future.

The Innovation Hub for Affordable Heating and Cooling (i-Hub) is a joint-venture initiative led by Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) in conjunction with CSIRO, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong and supported by Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

“The objective of i-Hub is to support the broader HVAC&R industry with knowledge dissemination, skills development and capacity building,” says AIRAH chief executive Tony Gleeson.

The i-Hub will focus on a series of projects in the healthcare, education and data centre sectors that have the potential to deliver hundreds of megawatts of demand response from building owner participants at a fraction of the cost of other approaches.

Productive source of demand

AIRAH chief executive Tony Gleeson says i-Hub will support the HVAC&R industry with knowledge, skills and capacity building.

“The i-Hub project brings a uniquely concerted effort from the HVAC&R and property industries to use the design and operation of air-conditioning services as a tool for supporting onsite and local grid renewables,” Gleeson says.

“Through the deferral of HVAC&R loads – during renewable energy supply shortages – and the use of HVAC&R loads as a productive source of demand during periods of excess supply, this project will increase the value of onsite renewable energy production and increase the fraction of building energy that can be economically provided by onsite renewable energy.”

The three-year project’s budget of $18 million includes cash and in-kind contributions of nearly $12 million from the participating institutions.

The i-Hub will develop capability for the HVAC&R industry to continue to innovate beyond the project’s three-year lifespan through the establishment of Living Laboratory facilities, a Data Clearing House digital platform and an integrated Design Process that has renewable energy and building efficiency at its core.

The Living Laboratory facilities will serve as hosts for validating emerging products in front of major building portfolio owners. The Data Clearing House is designed to enable data-driven renewable energy optimisation analytics and control applications.

The Integrated Design Process will allow design consultants and building owners to manage the risk of delivering innovative building and system design solutions that have renewable energy and building efficiency at their core.

i-Hub is open to applications from industry participants who have suitable demonstration projects that require co-funding. Proposals will be considered under one of three activity streams: Living Laboratories, Integrated Design Studios and a Buildings to Grid Data Clearing House.