Integrated Sustainability Solutions for Climate Sensitive Isolated Communities

16 Dec 2010Archived News Climate Change Matters

Remote and isolated communities close to mining operations, or specifically developed to house mine site employees, often face weather extremes and therefore more challenging living conditions. To keep employees and their families comfortable, a range of (energy intensive) indoor climate control systems are used. The choice of these systems must also take into account the cost and efficacy of the energy supplied. In examining energy and climate control options, the designers must consider rising and volatile energy prices, and concerns about security of supply due to aging and therefore increasingly unreliable energy infrastructure.

Considerations in the design, or redesign, of isolated communities that not only address the comfort of employees but also demonstrate sustainability, present opportunities for mine operators to enhance their reputation and engagement with the community. Effective planning can also deliver cost and risk reductions in the long term.

Investments in sustainable energy and water supply, energy efficiency measures, demand management initiatives and renewable energy projects that secure supply and offer cheaper energy, all serve to enhance sustainable and climate-resilient communities. Planning needs to focus at both an individual dwelling level and an integrated community level.
Isolated communities require integrated sustainability programs.

To create an integrated sustainability program, the following aspects need to be addressed:

  • Engaging communities on climate change and other environmental and social issues.
  • Company positioning: building company profiles based on good work already delivered.
  • Using energy and water efficiency programs to enhance staff satisfaction and improve staff retention.
  • Managing water and energy pricing and subsidisation in isolated communities to ensure that price signals for the local community align with sustainability objectives. This includes building the business case for low-carbon technologies such as solar, wind and co- and tri-generation systems.
  • Assisting decision makers to access and use the correct information in order to make better decisions.
  • Developing the business case for retrofitting current infrastructure including considerations of scale, accessing carbon offset markets and leveraging other sources of funding such as from government departments as well as the local utilities (if applicable).
  • Implementing major programs to drive real change in energy and water use and carbon emissions from these communities. This includes monitoring and verification of outcomes.

Considerations in sustainable water management

Site-specific strategies which work from an understanding of the aquatic ecosystem go beyond simple compliance to reduce business risk and provide a stable position for the growth of the mine and its community. Features of a sustainable water management program include:

  • Water efficiency management – structural and non-structural solutions.
  • Integrated water cycle management considering the relationship with broader sustainability issues.
  • Water quality management.
  • Alternative (decentralised) water source availability including rainwater, stormwater, recycled water, desalinated water.
  • Appropriate technology selection for stormwater, wastewater and water treatment.
  • Risk assessment – human health, infrastructure and environmental.

Renewable and off-grid power generation

Dependent on the needs of the community and the weather it experiences, a specific solution can be designed. This solution could be renewable energy, for example wind and solar, more efficient technologies such as co- or tri-generation or heat pumps, and even integration with other energy users on site, for example processing plants and mines. The development of a renewable and off-grid power generation proposal should also be done in full view of carbon market opportunities (for example, a renewable energy project may qualify for RECs), as well as future energy prices to understand the business case for all potential energy provision scenarios.

Integrated analysis and optimisation of design of single dwellings
Energetics has been working on an innovative approach to the optimisation of designs for residential dwellings. This integrates Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) with thermal modelling to enable us to understand the full life cycle implications of a house. In this work we can assess and identify the critical trade-offs resulting from different decisions. We analyse:

  • All the environmental impacts associated with materials of construction selected by the designer using LCA.
  • The impacts associated with the construction and demolition of the house, again using LCA.
  • The impacts associated with living in the house using thermal modelling, including identifying which of these impacts are a function of the design of the house, and which are a function of the choices made by the people who live in the house.
  • The impacts of design decisions. For example orientation, size and location of windows, natural ventilation, etc.
  • The impact of installing solar panels and the effect of house orientation as well as the thermal performance of the house at that orientation.
  • The effect of climate zone and the effects of different design decisions and materials choices in different climates.

The analysis undertaken is unique in that it leverages our LCA expertise and our skills in assessing the performance of buildings. We can use it to support the future proofing of house designs for isolated communities.

Designing or redesigning remote, isolated communities faces a range of challenges and opportunities, and requires a strategic response. The considerations include the durability of the solution in the context of planned mine life, including considerations of dismantling and reuse, current and future costs of energy, renewable energy sources and their potential , community concerns, demand side options and energy efficiency opportunities including integration of systems, regulatory requirements, and the identification of additional sources of funding. 

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