Though they can be one of the most visible and valued assets for many councils, aquatic centres and swimming pools are also some of the most challenging. Most aquatic centres use gas-fired boilers to heat the pools; and with gas prices skyrocketing in recent years and the emissions intensity of fossil gas, aquatic centres increasingly present both a climate and cost liability for councils.

Recognising this, more and more councils are looking to improve the energy performance of their aquatic facilities or to electrify and switch from gas altogether. The recently launched award-winning Brimbank Aquatic and Wellness Centre presents a great example of how a zero-emission facility can be built from scratch, while councils such as the Inner West Council and the City of Canada Bay in Sydney have shown what can be done to decarbonise and optimise existing facilities, including by replacing boilers with heat pumps.

The recent launch of the Australian Government’s $100 million Community Energy Upgrades Fund (CEUF) presents the perfect opportunity to do just that, with councils able to apply for co-funding grants of $25,000 to $2.5 million for upgrades of community facilities, including aquatic centres.

In advance of the funding release, the federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) engaged the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity (A2EP) and consultancy, Sustainable Business, to create a capacity building series of webinars and network meetings for council officers considering implementing an aquatic centre energy upgrade.

“Aquatic centres have the double-header of being both energy intensive but with great potential for improving energy performance with great paybacks, that’s why we’ve been focussing on them for several years now,” says Jarrod Leak, CEO of the Australian Alliance for Productivity.

“We’d never suggest that electrifying and/or optimising energy use in an aquatic centre is easy, but it is definitely worth it in terms of emissions and cost reductions councils can enjoy for years to come.”

After consulting with a number of local government staff, including those who have been through the electrification/upgrade process, A2EP and Sustainable Business designed the webinar series to take officers through the basic steps and stages of what can be a major project to get this done.

“First, we look at the energy and thermal flows in the facilities to understand how the energy is being used and how we can utilise waste heat and cooling from other processes on the site,” Mr Leak said. 

“Then we discuss how to specify a feasibility study that will deliver the information and advice you need. Next, we discuss how to build a compelling business case for internal decision-makers, which we know can be one of the biggest hurdles. And then we are finishing up with a deep-dive on highly efficient heat pump technologies that can replace gas boilers.

“The important myth to dispel is that you need a heat pump with the same capacity as your existing boiler. It’s just not the case. Understanding that and taking it into account immediately improves the economics of switching to heat pumps.”

The webinars, which feature expert advice and first-hand accounts from council officers, are free to attend and view online, as are the network meetings, which are intended to be a Q&A session and a place to connect with colleagues in other councils to share experiences.

“The CEUF is an outstanding opportunity for councils to implement impactful projects that will help deliver on sustainability targets and save money for communities,” Mr Leak said. “We’re excited to be helping council officers build awareness and knowledge for the clean energy transition.”

Visit A2EP’s aquatic centre website to sign up for the upcoming events, watch previous webinars and access case studies and other valuable resources.

Applications for the first round of the Australian Government’s $100 million Community Energy Upgrades Fund (CEUF) are now open.

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