Connecting Building Infrastructure Boosts the Bottom Line

Sunday, July 7th, 2013
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The idea of connecting commercial property infrastructure together for use across more than one site in order to improve sustainability and operating efficiency is gaining momentum across the country, the Australian head of a multi-national engineering consultancy practice says.

Simon Wild, Australian director and chief executive officer of UK-based design and building services firm Cundall said the relatively new concept of multi-site integration – sharing of proprietary energy and/or sewerage facilities across more than one site, will continue to evolve and become increasingly widespread.

“Multi-site integration is about gaining benefits from connecting infrastructure together across multiple sites to generate efficiency in terms of sustainability and operating cost as well as to enable more economic generation of power,” he explains.

Wild, who is set to deliver a presentation about the concept at the Retrofit & Refurb Conference & Expo in Sydney later this year, says his firm has been involved with a number of recent projects in this field.

Simon Wild

Simon Wild

In the first of these, a trigeneration electricity system and a blackwater sewerage system were installed to serve a large retail centre, a refurbished existing office building and a new office building within a single precinct owned by Westfield in the Sydney CBD. The complementary load profiles of the retail and office buildings allowed for more efficient use of the trigeneration plant than would otherwise have been the case. Likewise, the differing profiles of sewerage between the buildings made an on-site sewerage system a viable proposition – normally not the case with stand-alone office buildings due to the relatively high concentration of solids in the system.

Beyond this, Wild says the concept can extend to facilities with multiple owners and occupiers as well as sites which are not connected geographically. At Lend Lease’s Barangaroo site, for example, excess water from an on-site blackwater system is being exported for use in the irrigation of local parks. In another project, commercial office landlord Investa has created a virtual network through which power generated from its trigeneration facility at Coca Cola Place in North Sydney can be used at its 126 Phillip Street office tower across the other side of the harbour.

While the benefits from these types of arrangements are significant, Wild cautions there are also potential pitfalls. For one thing, cost advantages associated with trigeneration are subject to volatile gas prices – a particular concern in Eastern states given current fears over local supplies.

Also, even in areas where the carbon intensification of electricity generation is relatively high – ideal locations for trigeneration – such as Victoria and New South Wales, it is in a state of steady decline, and Wild says landlords contemplating such systems need to ensure the payback period is short enough to enable them to recoup their investment before the grid reaches the point of being less energy carbon intensive than the trigeneration system and the system is turned off.

126 Phillip Street Building

Power from a trigeneration system at Investa’s Coca Cola Place in North Sydney (above) can be transferred offsite to its 126 Phillip Street Building across the harbour

Going forward, Wild sees the concept extending beyond the ‘hard infrastructure’ in the examples mentioned to include ‘softer’ infrastructure integration.

“What we mean by that is the integration of people and social media and the connection of people within multiple sites,” Wild says. “We are seeing that as an area where you gain environmental benefit through connecting tenancies within buildings and through connecting tenancies within one organisation but across multiple sites.”

Wild says Cundall, which has twenty offices globally and was the first and only consultancy in the world to be endorsed as a One Planet Company by sustainability charity BioRegional, is an example.

“What that created for us is a lot of behavioural change across our multiple sites,” he says. “And that change has probably generated more environmental benefits than we would have achieved if we had said ‘let’s drop our energy by 20 per cent’ in each office.”

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