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Josef Hargrave

Global foresight manager

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Photovoltaic toolkit for commercial buildings

Photovoltaic toolkit for commercial buildings

Focus Area

Digital, Energy

Discipline

Building Performance and Systems, Building Retrofit, Electrical, Energy, Sustainability

Region

Australasia

Year

2013

As electricity prices in Australia rise, commercial building owners look to alternative methods for supplying electricity to their buildings. Solar photovoltaic (PV) generation has become a popular option as the cost of PV technology has reduced. To take advantage of new opportunities in PV, we must be able to present technically detailed and accurate information on the costs and benefits of these systems.

The performance of a PV system will vary considerably between different facility types and different locations.  A technical toolkit was needed that could use electricity consumption and cost information for almost any building type and location in Australia, and calculate potential energy savings and the relative financial performance of different systems.

This research developed and consolidated several tools to enable robust value assessment for a range of alternative energy systems. The multi-stage toolkit is split into several key processes and is designed to deliver the most efficient approach for a client.  First, applying screening criteria allows a quick and cost-effective determination of whether anything precludes the use of a solar PV system at a site. Then, the evaluation model uses a range of inputs to assess the financial performance of PV and other embedded generation configurations. Next, a performance specification for the PV is prepared for tender. Finally, a commissioning checklist provides the client with a guide for site inspections to ensure an adequate installation.

Key Findings

A toolkit has been developed that comprises (i) site screening criteria, (ii) a technical and financial evaluation model (spreadsheet based), (iii) a template PV system performance specification, and (iv) a PV system commissioning checklist.

Applying the initial screening criteria allows us to undertake a first-pass assessment of a facility to quickly determine whether there are any ‘red flags’ precluding the use of a solar PV system at a site.

A high-level commissioning checklist is ready to be taken to site and can be issued directly to the client. The checklist is intended as a guide for site inspections to ensure an adequate installation.

Application

The toolkit model was used as part of an energy masterplanning project in New South Wales, Australia. As part of this commission, the original PV-only toolkit was expanded to include a broader range of energy generation technologies, energy efficiency opportunities, and also the impact of load shifting and demand management. This broader approach allows the team to quickly analyse multiple opportunities for a range of facility types.

The broadened toolkit model has been used to analyse the energy efficiency performance and renewable energy technologies for 70 facilities in Australia. These included office buildings, theatres, aquatic centres, airports and wastewater treatment plants.

Impact

This technical toolkit can use electricity consumption and cost information to calculate potential energy savings and the relative financial performance of different systems for almost any building type and location in Australia. The benefit of initial screening process is that it provides a high level assessment at a far lower cost than a full feasibility assessment for a client.   The screening assessment does not automatically determine the appropriateness of any specific PV system, but rather provides a checklist for information required to allow an engineer to form a qualitative opinion.

Further opportunities exist to publish the model for client use. The model has been set up to provide a step-by-step procedure for assessing various options, and as such can be used (with appropriate training) by clients in a non-technical role. Much of the functionality (including custom programming incorporated into the model calculation steps to simplify the process) can and will be used for the development of future client-specific models and spreadsheets.