At Melbourne Polytechnic's Green Skills Centre, students learn about sustainable practices and technologies in manufacturing, construction, training, retail, installation, repair and maintenance. Our Green Skills Centre has achieved a 5 star rating under the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star sustainability rating system, marking the facility as “Australian Excellence” in sustainable design.
What do we do at the Green Skills Centre?
Melbourne Polytechnic’s Green Skills Centre is used by many different courses over a wide variety of study areas. Our Building Design and Building and Construction students have classes in the Centre and study the principles of sustainable design demonstrated by the facility, from passive design and solar technologies, to cost minimisation and efficiency. The Green Skills Centre features a Robotics lab, which is used by our Engineering Mechatronics students, who also use the 3D printing facilities, producing designs from concept through to printing. Electrical trade students work with the Centre’s solar technology, while our Plumbing trade students learn through working with our fully-constructed greywater system. Our Green Skills Centre is more than just a building - it’s sustainability in practice as an example for our students.
Sustainability is the ability to endure. In ecological terms, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. As the earth’s human population grows, natural ecosystems are declining and changes to their natural cycles has a negative impact on both humans and other living systems. A sustainable existence for human beings depends on the wellbeing of the earth’s ecosystems and the responsible use of natural resources. As the caretakers of the planet, it’s up to humans to make changes to address these issues.
The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that one year of solar energy generates more power than will ever be obtained from the earth’s non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined. Solar photovoltaics (PVs) are arrays of cells that convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. The most common element of a PV cell is silicon, one of the most abundant elements on the earth. Due to the growing demand for renewable energy sources, the manufacture of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays has advanced dramatically in recent years. Melbourne Polytechnic’s Green Skills Centre uses solar technologies to find ways to minimise power use and make that power use as efficient as possible.
Rainwater harvesting is the deliberate collection of rainwater for the purpose of reuse. The reuse can be for anything from livestock watering to mining. In some areas, rainwater is the only source of water in a building and thus the occupants are closely attuned to the weather patterns and tank level. The main concern with reusing rainwater in a public building is that it’s possible for the water to be contaminated and unfit for potable use. Potable use includes water from the drinking fountains, showers and water used in our laboratories. To avoid spending unnecessary power resources purifying a clean resource, Melbourne Polytechnic’s Green Skills Centre uses rainwater for toilet flushing and other non-potable uses within the building.
Melbourne Polytechnic’s Green Skills Centre works with a Building Management System (BMS). The BMS is the “brain” of the building and can be configured to control the building’s elements according to a set of predetermined profiles, including the mechanical and electrical equipment such as ventilation, lighting, power systems, fire systems, and security systems. These profiles focus on maximising efficiency and minimising resource use. Our BMS allows Melbourne Polytechnic students and staff to study the amount of solar power and solar hot water produced by the building and the resulting reduction in greenhouse gases through interactive displays in the Centre’s foyer.
A geothermal heat pump is a central heating and cooling system that pumps heat to or from the ground. It uses the earth as a heat source in the winter or a heat sink in the summer. This design takes advantage of moderate temperatures in the ground (typically 15 – 20 degrees Celsius) to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems. Unlike an air-source heat pump, which transfers heat to or from the outside air, a ground source heat pump exchanges heat with the ground. This is much more energy-efficient because underground temperatures are more stable than air temperatures through the year.
Passive design is a design technique that harnesses the properties of the building to maintain comfortable indoor conditions, rather than relying on energy-using interventions.
Passive design should always be the top priority in designing a low-energy building, because passive design elements will remain through the life of the building even as the use or systems change. Passive design is different for different building types and locations. Our Green Skills Centre is specifically designed and computer optimized to respond to the outside weather for its indoor conditions, before energy is required for heating, cooling and ventilation. As well as using less energy, passive design buildings are also more comfortable for the occupants.
Indoor environment quality (IEQ) accounts for the variables in the spaces the occupants learn, work and play in. The better the conditions, the happier and healthier it is for the occupants. Melbourne Polytechnic’s Green Skills Centre improves the indoor environment quality by improving the ventilation and monitoring the CO2 levels and volatile organic compounds (VOC) - such as from plastics and vinyls - in the air. Obviously, full natural ventilation would be the ideal solution to avoid the build-up of these two gases for most of the time, but this means little control over the indoor temperature – another indoor environment variable. So IEQ management is a balancing act, maintaining healthy air as well as keeping the temperature comfortable. The Centre has ventilators on the roof that extract the warm expired air from the training floor to allow the fresh air to come in at low level.
The environmental impacts of material usage can include the depletion of natural resources, the degradation and pollution of the environment in their extraction, production, use, and health impacts associated with off-gassing of pollutants in production and use. It is our responsibility to be selective with materials chosen for use. All of the materials used in Melbourne Polytechnic’s Green Skills Centre have been selected to minimise their environmental impact. This includes the timber, concrete, flooring, wall materials, glues, adhesives, paints, finishes and even the furniture. Our selection process analyses the embodied energy, durability, product source location and volatile organic compound content of the materials, in order to make the building as environmentally friendly as possible.
Melbourne Polytechnic’s Green Skills Centre exists to educate the next generation in sustainable and green technology. Our students learn not only how to install and maintain “green” technology, but also how to do it in a sustainable way. They will learn the difference between quality products and cheap replicas, and how to advise the clients or their employers how their products or operations could be improved.
But sustainability is not just about energy and water, it is not about a new facility that teaches more efficient technology. Sustainability is a mindset about changing the way we live for our future generations.