EFFICIENCY: Bob Hill (BCCAN), Peter Harris (CSU) and Grant Christopherson (OEH) with an electricity substation on the Bathurst CSU campus. Pic by John Merkel.

By Tracy Sorensen

Heavy metal band AC/DC celebrated high voltage rock n roll, but when it comes to the environment, too much voltage can be a bad thing.

Bathurst Community Climate Action Network (BCCAN) is helping to pave the way to a cleaner, greener, energy usage by supporting a voltage reduction trial at Charles Sturt University (CSU). If the project is successful, it will serve as a model for other large electricity clients through the central west and beyond.

“Energy savings through voltage reduction can produce financial savings as well as lower emissions of carbon dioxide,” said Bob Hill, convenor of BCCAN’s Energy Action Planning Team.

The current project, funded by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) is designed to explore the techniques and extent of energy savings for large clients through voltage reduction. BCCAN’s partners in this project include CSU’s Division of Facilities Management, CSU’s School of Management and Marketing, and Essential Energy. The current trial is being coordinated on BCCAN’s behalf by energy efficiency expert Chris Halliday of Powerlogic.

Mr Halliday said that voltage reduction projects (known in the industry as “conservation voltage reduction” or CVR) are based on the fact that the voltage delivered at the power point is usually set above the user’s needs. By “turning down the knob”, lower voltage can be delivered, offering energy savings. The benefits of CVR include less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, lower energy costs and, potentially, longer-lasting electrical equipment.

He said that while we think of our power points as delivering 230 volts (it was 240 volts in Australia until the year 2000), this is highly variable in reality, changing on a second-to-second basis from a low of about 204.6 volts to a high of 253 volts.

“Power companies have traditionally worked at the top end of voltage delivery,” Mr Halliday said. “That’s because complaints are always about too little power rather than too much.”

Because voltage levels tail off the further they go from the substation, the tendency is to set the levels on the high side so that “the last person down the road is still okay”.

For large energy users such as CSU, which has its own substations, voltage levels can be fine-tuned according to actual needs. This is not a straightforward task, however, as it requires expertise in mathematics and data analysis to get the right “sweet spot”.

Under Mr Halliday’s guidance, the voltage at six CSU substations was lowered in January. Data will now be gathered for six months and then analysed to check the level of energy savings.

According to Mr Halliday, energy savings from CVR projects can be as much as four per cent per annum. For very large energy users, this represents great financial savings.

If the current trial at CSU is successful, it may be rolled out to other sites such as CSU in Wagga Wagga. It will also serve as an example for other large electricity users in the central west and beyond.

UPDATE October 20, 2016: Chris Halliday from Powerlogic has now released his report on this project. See PDF file attached to this post.