This study is aimed at improving the safety, comfort, productivity and energy efficiency of enterprise buildings in remote communities. Two building types, besser block and steel frame, were investigated in both hot arid and hot humid climate zones of northern Australia.
Adaptation to climate change and the increasing cost of electricity are key drivers for improving the thermal efficiency of the built environment. The need is particularly acute in remote regions of Australia where temperatures and energy costs are rising. Additionally, building construction for new enterprises is largely reliant on building energy efficiency codes developed in the major cities where the climates are temperate or cool. Remote community buildings in Far North Queensland (FNQ) and Central Australia (CA) have unique requirements. Electricity and transport are expensive, incomes are relatively low and maintenance services are almost non-existent. At the same time, enterprise buildings have to provide an environment that is safe and productive while coping with climate extremes that are rarely encountered in Australian cities.
The case studies reported here quantify the impact of climate extremes on enterprise buildings in remote Australia. The report will describe the current usage and performance of eight buildings, including their design, function, electricity consumption and thermal response to climate variables. It will provide assessments of the thermal and energy efficiencies of these buildings using AccuRate, a standard tool used throughout Australia to assess the thermal efficiency of buildings. The assessments are intended to inform guidelines for designing remote community enterprise buildings for improved comfort and energy efficiency. They will also demonstrate how the standard building energy efficiency model AccuRate can be adapted for use in remote Australia.
Key outcomes and recommendations
1. Electricity consumption savings of up to 40% are achievable if out-of-hours consumption is reduced by: - assessing if appliances and equipment need to run or operate in standby mode 24 hours a day - use of automated controllers to switch off appliances when and where appropriate.
2. Electricity can be saved and comfort improved in buildings with air conditioning by upgrading building design so that air conditioners do not need to run 24 hours a day. Upgrades include: - insulating the walls and ceilings and reducing uncontrolled draughts. - using controlled forced ventilation at night in buildings with high thermal mass.
3. The buildings without air conditioning were typically unoccupied for most of the day from late spring to early autumn due to excessive heat. The temperature can be reduced by as much as 5−10 °C and the number of available working days increased by upgrading building design using: - low thermal emissivity foil insulation on the underside of roofs - trees and shrubs to provide shade and transpiration cooling - replacing uninsulated skylights with high insulation translucent honeycomb units - forced ventilation.
4. Evaporative coolers, although very efficient, are too hazardous for use in remote locations due to lack of maintenance resources. The key risks are scaling blockages in sprinklers, leading to fires, and health issues associated with warm stagnant water.
5. The house energy efficiency design and NatHERS rating tool AccuRate could be made suitable for designing thermally efficient enterprise buildings in remote Australia by allowing: - users to input thermal load parameters to account for occupancy and equipment - users to input external environment temperature - calculation of the benefit of low thermal emissivity foil insulation - calculation of the benefit of forced ventilation at different times of day.