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Australian Universities could take a greater lead on clean energy investment

19 October 2016

Australian Universities could embrace clean energy technologies to help offset their rising energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions, a new Market Report from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has found.

CEFC University Sector Lead Melanie Madders said the Market Report Clean energy opportunities for universities, estimates Australian universities are currently paying as much as $700 million in energy costs each year and responsible for annual emissions of more than one million tCO2-e.

"Energy and greenhouse gas emissions are an increasing focus of university sustainability plans. Investing in clean energy technologies on campus can help reduce energy bills, decrease emissions and demonstrate leadership in research and innovation," Ms Madders said.    

"University energy consumption is increasing because of rising student numbers and the high energy intensity of technologically-sophisticated laboratories and research facilities.

"If these trends continue, the university sector will continue to face growing energy costs and increasing emissions, which proven and cost-effective clean energy technologies can help offset. There is a clear opportunity here for universities to take a leading role in tackling this pressing issue."

The CEFC Market Report examined carbon emissions reporting, university energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets and university sector debt borrowings. It found further compelling reasons for universities to increase their uptake of clean energy technologies and to consider the use of tailored debt finance to support these initiatives.

The Market Report found that buildings account for $28 billion, or 65 per cent, of the fixed assets of universities. Improving the energy performance of these primary assets could significantly reduce university operating costs.

Cost effective technologies such as energy efficient lighting, air conditioning systems and more efficient refrigeration have a proven track record in reducing energy use. These technologies can also help reduce asset maintenance costs and backlogs.

Other technologies, such as voltage optimisation, integrated battery storage and microgrids, electric vehicles, solar thermal and micro-wind turbines can also serve as demonstration and research projects for universities.

The CEFC estimates that Australia's universities have installed more than 7MW of solar PV, including the University of Queensland's 3.275MW Gatton Solar project. Ms Madders said there was significant potential for further adoption of solar technology.

"Many universities have plenty of roof space that would be suitable for the installation of solar PV. Much of this technology is now cost-competitive with grid-supplied electricity," Ms Madders said.

"While clean energy investments are often capital intensive, debt finance can provide the required upfront capital and tailored repayment terms can be spread over a longer term so they can be met through energy cost savings. This helps deliver funding certainty for universities without using their normal funding sources."

The CEFC provides long-term fixed rate debt finance to universities for investments in clean energy, including renewable energy generation, energy efficient buildings, facilities and equipment, and low emission technologies.

The CEFC's involvement in the university sector includes:

  • $9.1 million in finance to the University of Melbourne for initiatives that are expected to reduce grid electricity consumption by about eight per cent. These initiatives are being carried out in stages, and include voltage optimisation, freezer upgrades, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal and micro-turbines.
  • The signing of a Letter of Interest regarding finance for Monash University's Transformative Energy Initiative, which includes new technologies and smart grids.

Media release, 2016

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