Reef HQ Aquarium continues its green journey

Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville, Queensland will soon become the first aquarium in the world to run a revolutionary new thermal energy storage and renewable energy system.

The technology uses an onsite thermal battery to store excess solar power generated by Reef HQ’s solar PV system. The stored thermal energy can be used at night to power life support systems and temperature controls for Reef HQ’s coral reef exhibit, the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, which requires uninterrupted power 24/7.

Reef HQ Aquarium first installed solar panels in 2006 and was the first Queensland tourism location to receive accredited ‘Solar Power Station’ status. Reef HQ has significantly invested in onsite renewable energy generation, with 950 roof mounted solar panels.

Adelaide-based Glaciem Cooling Technologies has developed the thermal energy storage (TES) in collaboration with the University of South Australia. The TES stores and discharges energy by freezing (storing), then melting (discharging) a phase change material (PCM).

The new TES and Glaciem’s Carbon Dioxide heat pump installed at Reef HQ, and commissioned this week, incorporates a smart system managed by Glaciem’s Advance Renewable Forecasting Algorithm (ACFA) that predicts available solar power and national electricity market power pricing as well as cooling demands and system efficiency.

The smart system will ensure Reef HQ maintains an optimal use of energy through its ability to suggest the best times to store and use the energy.

In many large buildings and industrial facilities, including Reef HQ, traditional Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC&R) represents about 50% of energy needs. However, delivering environmentally-low impact yet energy-efficient refrigerants is difficult. Glaciem’s innovative technology represents a big step towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions for the industry.

The installation is part of a broader renovation project for Reef HQ, which includes upgrades to the back of house facilities, coral reef exhibit, predator tank and turtle hospital.

Speaking about the new system, Reef HQ’s Technical Operations Manager, Sascha Thyer, said “Reef HQ is excited to be part of this innovative project with Glaciem, which was co-funded by Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) as part of ARENA's Advancing Renewables Program.”

“Energy efficiency is a key criteria whenever we make any modifications to our systems. We have seen great successes, including the reduction of our energy consumption by 50 per cent,” Ms Thyer said.

“Looking to the future, we want to ensure not even one photon of our solar energy is wasted. We feel we can make a significant contribution by being a first adopter with this new technology, and showcase innovations that can grow the general understanding about what options and possibilities are available to business and individuals. This knowledge can be really empowering for those who want to understand what they can do to be more energy efficient,” she said.

Glaciem Cooling Technologies founder and CEO, Julian Hudson, said it is exciting to see the technology put into operation.

“The lack of economically viable energy storage and other smart technology, to help bridge the gap between renewable energy and heating/cooling loads, is a significant hurdle preventing industry transformation from the existing heavy reliance on grid energy consumption for the HVAC&R sector. Improving the efficiency and sustainability of HVAC systems, will be fundamental to the long-term aim of net zero emissions,” Mr Hudson said.

Having secured $2 million in national funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) in 2019, Glaciem was able to rapidly pass proof of concept and begin commercialisation of its world-first system. As well as its collaboration with Reef HQ Aquarium, Glaciem is also collaborating with several other sectors reliant on industrial-scale heating and cooling including wine and beverages, dairy, cinemas and motor sport.

Glaciem Cooling Technologies is an Australian HVAC and refrigeration systems supplier of highly efficient CO2 heat pump and thermal energy storage systems for commercial and industrial applications. Glaciem products reduce energy costs by providing heating and cooling or freezing in one efficient system and allow users of solar and renewable energy to maximise their use of solar power.

Disclaimer: This project received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA's Advancing Renewables Program. Reef HQ Aquarium is one of just three Australian businesses included in the program.