Electrification of Aquatic Centres: What is it and How Can it Help Boost Your Facility’s Profitability & Energy Efficiency

Achieving sustainability is more challenging for aquatic centres due to high operational costs and the usage of energy-intensive equipment.

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Electrification of gas-intensive Aquatic Centres is key to driving emissions reduction and energy savings for this type of facility.

Aquatic Centres are essential places for teaching children how to swim, healing and enhancing a community’s way of life. As indoor recreational and sports facilities, aquatic centres gained popularity in Australia during the 1970s, and the momentum has continued until today.  

Operating an aquatic centre today with cost pressures and a focus on reducing emissions is more challenging compared to a typical commercial building due to its energy intensity. In fact, aquatic centres consume up to seven times more energy per sq m of floor area compared to a typical commercial building. Undoubtedly, this contributes significantly to Australia’s overall carbon footprint. Considering these factors, aquatic centres have traditionally struggled to achieve sustainability and move towards Net Zero.

Emissions reduction is not the only challenge that has been impacting aquatic centres. Much of an aquatic centre’s energy requirement comes from central plant equipment such as gas boilers which consume significant amounts of gas to operate. This usually leads to high operational costs that have a direct impact on an aquatic centre’s overall bottom line and profitability. 

Electrification – along with energy efficiency and renewable energy – might just be the solution to all these challenges. Aside from reducing the reliance on fossil fuels, it can also help achieve energy savings in Aquatic Centres by more than 40%¹

In this article we explore what electrification is in the context of aquatic centres and the role of energy efficiency and clean energy plays in driving better return on investment and sustainability outcomes. We also take a look at ten measures you can consider for your aquatic centre.

What is Electrification and Why Does it Matter? 

Electrification and its Contribution to the Greater Good

Electrification, in simple terms, is the process of replacing fossil-fuel-based technologies (such as coal, oil, and natural gas) with electricity-based technology enabling the use of renewable power sources. The direct benefits of electrification include cutting greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring an affordable and secure energy supply, and increasing overall energy efficiency of any building, plant or a facility.  In short, electrification can play a major contribution towards Australia achieving Net Zero by 2050.

Why Electrification is Important for Aquatic Centres?

Equipment and Accessories Used in Aquatic Facilities are Energy Intensive
As mentioned earlier, aquatic centres are typically large facilities that require high energy usage to operate effectively.

Infographic 1 below can provide a detailed insight into the energy usage in aquatic centres.  
(Infographic 1) Breakdown of Energy Usage in an Aquatic Centre

 

From the infographic, it is evident that maintaining a pool’s water temperature at comfortable levels contributes to the biggest operational cost, followed by the pool’s pump and filtration system. Electrification seeks to ease this burden by using renewable energy resources instead of fossil fuel-based resources traditionally used in gas fired boilers for pool heating.

This is particularly important given gas prices have increased significantly in recent weeks. Ecosave used to recommend cogeneration units to provide our clients with flexibility and cost effectiveness, however with advances in technology, improved efficiency of heat pumps and a variety of storage mechanisms we are now designing systems for clients with only one cogeneration unit and in some cases none whilst still minimising operating costs!

The Role of Energy Efficiency in the Process of Electrification

“Energy efficiency is the first fuel – the fuel you do not have to use – and in terms of supply, it is abundantly available and cheap to extract.” – International Energy Agency (IEA).

Reducing energy consumption through energy efficiency measures makes good commercial sense and it also contributes towards lowering emissions.

To get the best value from undertaking an Electrification project is to ensure there’s a heavy focus on optimising and upgrading the whole facility to be more energy efficient.

The reason for that being is that once the degasification/electrification project is complete there will be an increase in the amount of electricity that is used as a whole (even though overall energy will be reduced by the elimination of gas).    Therefore to minimise OPEX, energy efficiency across the entire facility must be done concurrently with electrification to ensure that not only environmental objectives are achieved (i.e. eliminating need for fossil fuels) but also that the overall aquatic centre is operating as cost-effectively as possible.

Therefore, energy efficiency across the entire facility must be done concurrently with electrification to ensure that not only environmental objectives are achieved (i.e. eliminating need for fossil fuels) but also that the overall aquatic centre is operating as cost-effectively as possible.

Andrew McKellar, who is the Chief Executive of Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (ACCI), said, “Increasing energy costs impact all businesses.  In particular, energy-intensive sectors…will be harshly affected by rising electricity and gas prices… 

Mr. McKellar added that the bottom line of any business is to decrease the costs of energy. Hence, the need to drive energy efficiency improvements  is fast becoming a necessity.

Aquatic facilities can benefit from electrification and energy efficiency in at least Four major ways, as Infographic 2 indicates.
(Infographic 2) 4 Major Benefits of Electrification for Aquatic Centres

How Lean, Clean ‘Swimming Machines’ Drives Better Return on Investment

The quest to achieve business and environmental sustainability within aquatic centres, in terms of optimal cost savings and emissions reduction, does not stop at electrification and energy efficiency.

Owners and operators of energy efficient and fully electric aquatic centres should also consider the source of the electric power used in their facilities.

Once an aquatic centre has been fully optimised to be as efficient (‘lean’) as possible, an important next step is to ensure there’s ‘clean’ energy as well – with on-site generation of renewable power (e.g. Solar Panels, Solar Thermal, Geo-thermal etc.) offering a good return on investment. 

Fully electric central plant and equipment that is optimised for energy efficiency and powered by renewable energy resources is a better investment as compared to focusing on only one area in isolation (i.e. only electrification, or only energy efficiency, or only renewables).

A holistic approach that involves both ‘lean’ and ‘clean’ aspects to energy is required (Lean in terms of energy efficiency and ‘Clean’ in terms of renewable energy) if you’re looking for best possible return on investment and best possible outcome for the environment.

When you engage an experienced team of energy efficiency and sustainability engineers, they would typically design a clean energy and/or energy storage system based on the requirements of a fully electric and fully optimised/energy efficient facility. Energy efficiency measures across the entire facility will reduce the load profile and therefore require a smaller clean energy system – which in turn reduces the amount of capital required for the clean energy system.

Some operators/managers have made the mistake of implementing solar panels without prioritising energy efficiency, which means they have invested in solar systems that are too large for the facility resulting in very low ROI % and a long payback period.

However, if they had adopted the lean and clean approach, future cost savings generated by multiple energy efficiency measures, coupled with emissions reduction solutions such as Solar PV, would drive signficantly better ROI and sustainability outcomes.

Strategies and Measures to Implement Electrification in Aquatic Centres   

  • Have your aquatic centre assessed and reviewed to identify electrification, energy efficiency and emissions reduction opportunities. A detailed site assessment can help identify an aquatic centre’s energy utilisation, find possible areas of wasted energy, and identify measures on how to reduce costs and emissions related to energy usage. 
  • Replacing gas-fired boilers with modern, electric-powered heat pumps. These can be powered by electricity generated by on-site solar panels and their battery storage (if required), without relying on fossil fuel-based boilers.
  • Even the most modern, and renewable energy-powered heat pumps, still consume electricity and there will still be room for wasted energy. Variable Speed Drives or VSDs can help maximise these pumps’ lifecycle, control the energy they consume, and be integrated into the aquatic centre’s BMS. If cost is an issue, VSDs can eliminate the need to bypass control valves and lines to offset their installation costs.
  • Utilise building management systems for smarter energy management. Think of aquatic centres as facilities with ‘many moving parts’, and managing both heating, cooling, and lighting systems can be challenging for facility managers. Installing better building management systems or BMS. BMS helps automate the monitoring and management of critical systems such as power distribution, heating, and cooling of common and pool areas for occupancy comfort, and overall energy and water facilities management. BMS takes out the guesswork from monitoring and automates it to benefit aquatic centre operators. 
  • Patron comfort is of utmost importance to Ecosave and our Aquatics Centres, however there are still opportunities to Lower a pool’s water temperature to reduce heat loss due to evaporation based on the time of the day and ambient conditions. Using a BMS will help make the necessary adjustments to pool temperatures based on attendance patterns (both adults and children) or the current season. Humidity can also be monitored by the BMS to ensure that it’s within the occupants’ comfort levels. 
  • Optimise the pool’s filter backwashing. Although backwashing is often done on a scheduled basis, it’s best to do it when required. Pool operators need to inform their team about the new process, which includes knowing a backwash’s optimum pressure and installing modern pressure gauges on all filters. These gauges will alert pool personnel when backwashing is needed, and a positive step toward becoming energy efficient. 
  • Upgrades and optimisation to HVAC system
  • Pool Blankets can help to maintain water temperature and minimise water loss due to evaporation which reduces the load on heat pumps and water pumps
  • LED Lighting can improve lighting conditions and save on electricity costs as they are proven to be highly cost effective – both in terms of operating costs but also in terms of fewer maintenance and replacements given they typically last a lot longer than traditional/older lighting technology
  • Installing or upgrading to Solar Domestic Hot Water systems (and Solar PV in general) will provide free clean energy from the sun and lowers the reliance on the electricity grid. DHW typically accounts for around 5-15% of an aquatic centre’s energy consumption. Ensuring that the system is fully electric (i.e. replacing gas DHW boiler with an electric equivalent) and powered by solar can generate substantial cost and emissions savings.

 

There are many other energy efficiency and emissions reduction solutions specific to aquatic centres that are not covered above. However, the key to getting the best outcome for your aquatic centre is to ensure you partner with a company that specialises in designing and implementing end-to-end solutions for electrification, energy efficiency and emissions reduction. Connecting with a net zero solutions company like Ecosave can help aquatic centre owners and operators have a results-oriented and holistic approach including guaranteed cost savings and tangible emissions reduction.     

Infographic 3 is an example of how aquatic centres can benefit from energy efficiency and emissions reduction when implemented in the right way.

 

 (Infographic 3) Case study of Yarra Centre successfully implementing electrification in its aquatic facility

¹Ecosave has worked with many aquatic centres to achieve their objectives. One recent example is the work we did at Yarra Centre pool – click to discover How Yarra Centre Slashed its Annual Energy Cost by 42%.

Did you know? Ecosave has partnered with the Australian Swim Schools Association (ASSA) to help their members reduce carbon emissions & energy costs

 

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