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Research uncovers innovative solutions for cooling western Sydney

Sydney Water and the University of NSW have collaborated on a ground breaking study, Cooling Western Sydney, to create innovative solutions to help turn down the heat in western Sydney.

“There were a number of compelling statistics which led us to this research”, said Dr Michael Storey, Research Direction and Value Manager at Sydney Water.

“Temperatures are 6-10°C higher in western Sydney during the summer period than they are in the east and there can be up to three times as many deaths in western Sydney during heat waves than there are in eastern Sydney. Energy consumption for cooling Western Sydney is up to 100% higher than in the eastern zones of the city. Peak Electricity Demand increases by almost 100% when temperature increases from 20°C to 40°C.”

Dr Storey added that effective cooling of western Sydney by implementing the solutions outlined in the Cooling Western Sydney research could result in:

  • Reduced peak ambient temperatures by 2.5°C
  • An estimated energy saving of 1726 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year = 1.726 Billion kilowatt hours. The average Australian house uses 6,570 kilowatt hours (KWh) per year. This saving is the equivalent used to power around 262,000 homes for a year.
  • A 9% drop in peak electricity demand, which equates to almost one million tons of avoided CO2 emissions, enough to create the equivalent of removing over 200,000 average sized cars from the roads each year and significant savings on power bills.
  • A reduction in the heat related mortality rate by up to 90% in western Sydney

The study investigated the role of water and related infrastructure, greening as well as building materials on cooling western Sydney.

It has challenged conventional thinking around mitigating urban heat, including the way we look at the built environment, energy demand, public health and ‘greening’ cities.

“We must take a multi-faceted approach that includes hard surfaces such as roofs and pavements”, said UNSW Professor Mat Santamouris.

“The solution is not just about planting trees, which seems to be the commonly held view.

“Trees create a cooling effect through a process called evapotranspiration, where water stored in the tree evaporates through the leaves during hot temperatures. However, when trees are subjected to extreme heat stress, they go into survival mode to conserve water to keep themselves cool.

“This means that we can’t rely solely on urban green spaces as a means of cooling the city in extreme temperatures.

“While greenery does have a cooling effect, the study shows the most effective urban heat mitigation technologies use a combination of water based technologies including fountains in conjunction with cool material technologies such as cool roofs and pavements. Integrating these new and advanced technologies into urban design can greatly reduce the impact of urban heat and assist in cooling Western Sydney.

“These solutions are the best way to enhance the liveability of western Sydney and will deliver greater economic, social and environmental benefits”, said Professor Santamouris.

Dr Storey added, “this is a whole-of-Sydney issue.  Cooling western Sydney means cooling eastern Sydney.  We must think locally but act globally.

“There are large geographical and meteorological forces at play in western Sydney.  On one side we have the large western deserts and desert winds, and on the other the Pacific Ocean and eastern ocean breezes.  Trapped in the middle and bordered by the Blue Mountains is western Sydney, which can be subjected to extreme temperatures in summer time because the area receives little respite from ocean breezes and southerly winds.

“As Sydney is set to experience more prolonged summer heatwaves in future due to a changing climate, it will be critical for temperature peaks to be reduced to improve the thermal comfort for people living in western Sydney.

“The careful selection of water-based technologies and building materials can achieve a decrease of up to 4.5º C, which will take the ‘tops’ off the peak temperatures in extreme heatwave conditions in Sydney’s west”, said Dr Storey.

  • First published by Sydney Water 

Image: Sydney Water

Read more: Future tech for a stable climate

Researchers urged to stop hoarding knowledge

Dom Price, futurist and head of R&D at Australia’s most successful startup tech firm Atlassian has an impassioned and personal plea for academic researchers: stop hoarding, let go and act now!

Speaking to science and technology researchers, business owners who’ve commercialised research and fledgling research-based startups, Price stressed that perfection is the enemy of progress.

“You need to have progress and a little bit of perfection. ‘Scrappiness’ should be part of innovation!” he said.

Price’s view on how to get scientists to focus on progress is to start by sharing unfinished research early.

His opening address to Inspiring Australia’s Commercialising Research forum held at Sydney School of Entrepreneurship Monday as part of the Spark Festival warned that if scientists continued to hoard knowledge in a quest to attain perfection, they will certainly miss opportunities to scale up and translate their research into useful, global solutions.

Research is a skill not a job

Adding to this provocation, Price referred to research as a skill – one among many other skills required to scale up knowledge and build large-scale businesses that are capable of global reach. While he appealed to businesses to give researchers the freedom and time to “do the scary stuff,” Price argued that maintaining a sense of urgency was critical in order for Australian scientists to be able to take advantage of commercial opportunities as they arose.

Speakers and delegates participating in the half-day Commercialising Research forum challenged traditional research-business stereotypes and looked at the culture and collaborations necessary to achieve translational opportunities in building Australia’s most successful startups. How do you turn pure research into something that works for the commercial sector and society as a whole?

The initial panel pondered whether academics are insular and business short-sighted. Chaired by Refraction Media’s Heather Catchpole, they considered the need for researchers  to “go and knock on industry doors” and “… even annoy them a bit”.

UNSW’s Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla, director of Sustainable Materials Research & Technology, stressed not only the importance of leveraging research funding, but the importance of businesses to leverage research. Sahajwalla also urged researchers to share their vision in order to seek investment.

Investor Martin Duursma from Main Sequence Ventures echoed her call for researchers to talk themselves up. There was also a plea to researchers from Tim Allison, the CEO of TechFit, a company currently partnering with four universities, to please stay in Australia.

New frameworks for graduates

A recurring theme throughout the forum was for stronger engagement with the industry and business sectors so that research driven start-ups can work. Many participants called for new frameworks to involve PhD students in industry settings early in their studies and better mechanisms to assist early career researchers to develop industry networks. 

An exciting element of the forum was listening to researchers discuss their commercialisation journeys and hearing from business owners who are successfully breaking the mould.

A highlight was a commercialisation masterclass during which Dr Noushin Nasiri was coached by patent attorney Dr Gavin Recchia, entrepreneur Natasha Rawlings and business advisor Dr Julie Wheway, who has specialist expertise in research commercialisation.

The young UTS post-doctorate researcher has invented nanoscale breath sensing technology that has attracted much interest from industry. A skilled science communicator, Nasiri has spoken publicly about her work, including at FameLab and TedX Sydney. She enjoys the contrast science communication offers to remaining isolated in the laboratory and on the publishing trail.

Nasiri’s communication efforts have paid off handsomely with offers now coming her way. But she needs support to navigate her future. The expert panel advised her on the next steps, raising issues like IP, future goals, teams and support.

Echoing Prof Sahajwalla from the first session, Nasiri’s message to other researchers is to embrace science communication through any and every forum available so as to present research findings to a wider audience.  You never know where this may lead.

Yes, you can fail in research

Another speaker was Dr Dharmica Mistry from BCAL Diagnostics who is developing a novel blood test for breast cancer. Her message was that failure is okay – but you need to learn and move on quickly.

“You need to feel safe enough to have a go,” she said, adding that she found the hardest part of setting up a business to be managing expectations, timelines and shareholder demands. Learning on-the-job was the most important part of the journey.

For Prof Michael Whithford, founder of Modular Photonics and Director of the OptoFab Node, the hardest part of the commercial journey was managing human dynamics, personalities and skill sets. Other challenges have been working out the best rate of growth for his company. Whithford believes that to fully develop research talent, “… you need to push researchers in their natural direction and support cultivation”.

Spark Festival continues throughout the week, with many more forums on offer.  

Follow the new Research Futures channel to explore how academia, government and business can find better ways to ensure effective transition from research knowledge to scalable, global commercial outcomes.

The Commercialising Research forum held at Sydney School of Entrepreneurship was convened by Jackie Randles, Manager Inspiring Australia (NSW) as part of the 2017 Spark Festival. Join the conversation at #researchfutures #sparkfest

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