Climate change and sustainable energy: Western Sydney scholars leading the way

by | Aug 1, 2020 | Campus News

The COVID-19 pandemic is shaping a “new normal” across the nation. Many Australians are pumping up their energy use because of the amount of time they’re spending at home while they work, study or simply adhere to quarantine restrictions.

According to PV Magazine, there has been a 105% increase in energy consumption in Aussie households in Q1 2020 (sourced from nationwide analysis by Natural Solar) resulting from the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns.


As we begin to increasingly rely on energy consumption in our everyday lives, it is important to acknowledge that we need to make strides towards cleaner, more sustainable energy options.

Australia is in dire need of energy research and policy reform. Unfortunately, the nation’s global ranking continue to be dragged down by high fossil fuel use and mediocre emissions reduction targets leading Australia to pull an overall SDG Index score ranking of 37th out of 193 countries, according to the latest Sustainable Development Solutions Network rankings.

The 2020 Sustainable Development Report ranked Australia second last (176th out of 177 countries) when it comes to climate action. Australia has also ranked among the worst countries when it comes to responsible consumption and production thanks to coal-heavy manufacturing and poor electronic waste policies.

While the future looks bleak, there is hope for redemption thanks to energy academics. At Western Sydney University (WSU), there are various projects specialising in sustainable energy, renewable sources, energy management and environmental improvements and procedures.

1. Sustainable Energy Strategy

One of the most notable projects being pursued at WSU is the Sustainable Energy Strategy. This report aims to increase the use of renewable energy and pave a realistic path towards carbon neutrality. It was commissioned to develop a Sustainable Energy Strategy (SES) for WSU’s operations.

The strategy report references buying cleaner energy, supporting local renewable generation, analysing energy efficiency and looking at sustainable transport, waste management and supply chain procedures as factors.

Provided the recommendations from the report are acted upon, it is hoped that the following targets are achieved in the foreseeable future.

Thanks to the strategy, many changes have already begun to take place within WSU itself, including:

  • Construction of Green Star buildings across WSU campuses
  • Use of high-efficiency solar hot water heating for central plant
  • Trial of voltage optimisation at substation scale on Hawkesbury campus
  • Guidelines and implementation of energy-efficient lighting, HVAC and control mechanisms.

The Sustainable Energy strategy is ingenious and incorporates action plans by setting achievable goals, sourcing energy from renewable sources and coordinating waste, supply chain and offset strategies towards carbon neutrality.

The project has big shoes to fill with scholars hoping for the best possible outcomes to follow implementation of recommendations.

“[We hope to] achieve our renewable energy targets and carbon neutrality in the timeframes identified by our targets, with broad ranging initiatives associated the themes of the Environmental Sustainability Action Plan such as to reflect our proactive engagement with climate change risks and our collective social and corporate responsibility,” said Dr Roger Attwater.

The Sustainable Energy Strategy was developed by the ‘Office of Estate and Commercial’ and undertaken by the Environmental Sustainability Unit headed by Dr Roger Attwater.

If you’re interested in getting involved with Sustainable Futures or learning more, check out their curriculum and operations.

2. Optimising Energy Consumption

Another fascinating project WSU scholars are undertaking is one that looks outside of the box. When the word “building” is said, we think of a static object. Well, check out Project 7: Optimising energy consumption and have your conceptions challenged!

Developed by PhD candidate, De-Graft Joe Opoku, and his supervisors (Prof. Srinath Perera, Dr Robert Osei-Kyei and Dr Whitney Bevan), this research will leave you a refreshing new outlook of energy consumption.

From the left – Prof.Srinath Perera, De-Graft Joe Opuko, Dr Robert Osei-Kyei

Project 7 argues that the interactions between buildings and occupants inherently make it a dynamic object. Hence, considering a building as a ‘static’ object can’t provide a real solution to reducing energy consumption in buildings. This is a gap that has been identified between the predicted and actual energy consumption in buildings.

This research aims to optimise energy consumption for occupants, with a specific focus on educations areas like libraries.

This study has much to contribute to WSU and the wider community. It will optimise energy consumption to help reduce carbon footprint, help reduce energy bills, improve the usage/performance of libraries and present a library model which can be used to maintain the dynamic structure.

Additionally, this model could broadly be used across facilities management. This study is an exciting one that has potential to reshape the wider community in Western Sydney.

 3. A Bright Academic Future

With WSU already being home to so many energy projects that are currently underway, it is exciting to see that there is so much more still to come from this field of work.

The university’s faculty houses many distinguished scholars, like Dr Henry Lau, who hopes to continue working on energy projects in the near future.

Dr Lau is a senior lecturer at WSU whose research spans across the areas of logistics, energy management, supply chain management, operations research, engineering management and artificial intelligence systems. He has published around 230 refereed journal articles, 11 book chapters and published a textbook.

PhD Candidate Muhammad Salman Asif is another key researcher keen on contributing to the sustainable energy field through WSU.

Previously, in the UK, he developed a project report on cost and energy generation comparisons between wind energy and solar energy for urban and rural areas.

The results from his report found that the environment substantially improves by changing the source of energy generation from fuel-oriented to renewable sources.

Now, Dr Lau and Muhammad Salman Asif have collaborated on a distinctive project which has been submitted to the ‘Journal of Cleaner Production’.

This research project focuses on finding ways to involve green practices in the supply chain of larger firms to improve environmental and energy performance.


From the left – Muhammad Salman Asif, Dr Henry Lau

While developing the aforementioned research, Dr Lau, Muhammad Salman Asif and ‪Dr Dilupa Nakandala have been simultaneously working on another project.

“Another University funded project that I started with Henry is about developing energy and environmental efficiencies in the supply chains of perishable goods brought into Australia. We are hoping this project will reduce the harmful footprints encountered by the Australian import industry,” said Mr Asif.

Muhammad Salman Asif is a keen participant in his research field and has taken part in various university programs, including the 2019 WSU Sustainability Bootcamp where he worked towards meeting SDGs set for Western Sydney. He hopes to remain an active scholar into the future.

“I am excited to continue my research work at WSU and hope that my findings can contribute to the wider Australian community. Hopefully my work can encourage further discourse around renewable energy and environmental practices in Australian manufacturing and supply chain sectors,” he added.

While, undeniably, this is a crucial time for energy research in Australia, it is promising to know that WSU is pioneering ahead to ensure that energy research gets the much-needed attention that it deserves.

Editor’s note: Western Sydney University ranked 3rd globally in the Times Higher Education IMPACT rankings which rewards plans to achieve the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Projects such as these made it possible.




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