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National Landmark Sets Sustainability Example

When the idea of a national opera house was first mooted in the 1950’s, no one had any idea that the planet would be in the environmental crisis that we find ourselves in today. Global warming and planet-wide pollution of our air and oceans were not exactly hot topics in the 1950’s.

Notwithstanding this outlook, Jorn Utzon’s innovative and breath-taking design was decades ahead of its time in terms of sustainability and environmental awareness. The sea water fuelled cooling system is a very good example of Utzon’s forward-looking sustainability ideals.

New Sustainability Project: Sydney Opera House and Energy Australia

Louise Herron AM, CEO of the Sydney Opera House, and Energy Australia’s Managing Director, Catherine Tanna, announced recently that the Sydney Opera House and Energy Australia, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), will establish a think tank. This group will spearhead an initiative to assist the Opera House in delivering on its Energy Sustainability Plan (ESP) announced in 2016.  The program extends through 2019 to 2023.

In terms of this plan, Sydney Opera House will attempt to achieve total carbon neutrality (Net Zero certification) and a 5 Green Star rating from the Green Building Council, as well as 14% energy savings by 2023.

This will merely build on past achievements. In 2014, Sydney Opera House replaced the lighting in the Concert Hall, which resulted in huge savings to the energy bill and an improved experience for both the performers and the viewing public. In August 2015, Sydney Opera House was awarded a 4 Green Star status by the Green Building Council.

A National Icon Sets its Example

Sydney Opera House is Australia’s premier tourist attraction and is visited by 8.2 million people a year. It stages more than 2000 performances 363 days a year which are viewed by 1.5 million people. Sydney Opera House is a World Heritage Site, and in the words of Frank Gehry, judge on the Pritzker Prize Committee, at the award ceremony for architect Jorn Utzon in 2003:

“Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology… a building that changed the image of an entire country.”

As a national and world icon, it is appropriate that the Sydney Opera House should continue on this ground-breaking, innovative path with the realisation of its Energy Sustainability Plan. It is hoped the innovations incorporated in the ESP, and tested at the Opera House, will become an example to Australian households and organisations who want to adopt more energy saving and sustainable methods of operating.

Support from Government

New South Wales’ Minister for Energy and Utilities & Minister for the Arts Don Harwin was reported as saying: “As the symbol of modern Australia, the Opera House has the power to inspire and shape change. Together, the Opera House and EnergyAustralia, in collaboration with CSIRO, will set a new standard for heritage buildings and encourage the broad adoption of cleaner energy solutions. Partnerships such as this one will be key to securing a more sustainable future for Australia. Congratulations to all those involved in this fantastic partnership.”

Major Initiatives

Key opportunities to help the Opera House attain its goals of managing its peak energy usage and to optimise performance were highlighted at the first think tank held in March 2017. The key areas for performance enhancing initiatives include:

  • Energy storage on site. Provide generation and storage on site by the installation of fuel cell technology and batteries to better manage energy consumption.
  • Multiple data sources to manage heat levels. Use of CSIRO’s fault detection technology to correlate data from multiple sources within the Opera House. This will enable the Opera House to monitor temperature levels throughout the Opera House and thereby achieve significant energy savings.
  • Renewable energy sharing. EnergyAustralia has announced plans to allow its consumers to “donate” solar energy generated on their rooftops to the Opera House to reduce the Opera House’s carbon footprint and energy costs.

Commitment from the Partners

As Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM said: “We are very committed to the path set out in our ESP, building on the Opera House’s environmental successes to date, including our 4-Star Green Star rating awarded in 2015.”

This was re-iterated by EnergyAustralia’s MD Catherine Tanna: “Our partnership will do more than change the way energy is used in Australia’s biggest house… We will apply what we learn and the technology developed through the partnership to helping homes across Australia to use energy in ways that are smarter, more efficient and more sustainable.”

Soon, the co-operative partners will finalise their Net Zero strategy and its associated projects by establishing a decision-making forum. This forum will determine the initiatives that will achieve the maximum impact in implementing this strategy. The partnership between the Opera House and its energy supplier Energy Australia as well as CSIRO will be in operation for two years.

Can You Take Up the Challenge?

With the country’s most famous building setting an example, Australians should sit up and take note. Sustainability has never been a more pressing issue than it is today, and the pressure is on to find solutions. True, your building, be it a home or a business, is nowhere near the size of the Opera House, but every little bit helps. Let’s take up the sustainability challenge today.