The City of Sydney in Australia has unveiled ambitious plans to eventually supply all of its electricity needs from local, trigeneration schemes based on natural gas and biogases. The City has recruited Allan Jones, who has a successful track record in this area from the UK, to move the plan forward.

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Four solar photovoltaic projects have already been implemented, including the heritage listed Sydney Town Hall

In developing its vision for the future, ‘Sustainable Sydney 2030’, the City of Sydney spent more than a year consulting its community and a consensus emerged on the way to make Sydney a greener, more global and connected city.

Some 97% of people wanted the City to take urgent action to tackle climate change, so the City made sustainability the overarching theme. A major objective of Sustainable Sydney 2030 is to position Sydney as one of the world’s leading green cities in the race to counter climate change. To achieve this, the city has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 from 2006 levels.

80% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from centralized power generation, primarily burning coal. This is inefficient, unnecessarily polluting, a waste of non-renewable resources and the primary cause of climate change. Key to the City’s objectives to tackle climate change is the aim to supply 100% of Sydney’s electricity from local generating plants through a combination of energy efficiency and low, or zero carbon decentralized energy, principally combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP) or trigeneration that can be fuelled from natural gas or renewable gases.

The emission reduction targets will be delivered through what Sustainable Sydney 2030 calls ‘Green Transformers’. These are a combination of green infrastructure, primarily trigeneration, but also waste and recycled water infrastructure. When combined with demand reduction, trigeneration will provide 70% of the electricity needs of the city in 2030 and reduce greenhouse intensity by about 35%. This will need at least 330 MWe of trigeneration to be delivered by 2030. The balance of energy needs will come from waste heat from local electricity generation and renewable energy from within and outside the city area.

However, how does a city implement such a massive undertaking from a standing start with little or no prior history, experience or expertise in tackling climate change or implementing any form of decentralized energy? What the City needed to do, and actually did was to import that experience and expertise to take up the challenge of delivering the energy and climate change goals in Sustainable Sydney 2030, through the development and implementation of a Green Infrastructure Plan.


Developing the Green Infrastructure Plan and putting it into action is happening on two levels – for the city as a whole and by the City of Sydney leading the way and installing local generation projects in its own operations. This ‘show by doing’ principle has been adopted in the borough of Woking, London in the UK and demonstrates that if the public sector lead, others will follow.

At the first level, contracts are already under way for the Decentralised Energy Master Plans: Trigeneration with the Kinesis, Cogent Energy and Origin Consortium; and renewable energy and alternative waste treatment with Arup. The Water Recycling and Automated Waste Master Plans will follow later this year. These will complete the city-wide Green Infrastructure Plan which will be embedded into the City’s master plan and operations.

Ways of delivering the Green Infrastructure Plan will follow, with particular focus on how to introduce trigeneration. An integrated approach has been taken for the city-wide green infrastructure. This enables for example, trigeneration, recycled water and waste to use the same network infrastructure, stations, renewable gases and non-potable water to be recovered from the waste and used on the city’s green infrastructure.

At the second level, the City of Sydney has already made available an A$18 million (US$15 million) budget to reduce its own carbon dioxide emissions by 48% from 2009 to 2012. This is the first step towards the city’s own 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for its own buildings and operations. This has led to a series of building energy efficiency retrofit and renewable energy projects which have already seen a 17% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the first year of the project. However, measures such as bulk procurement are planned to maximize competition and the economics of the projects, as well as ensuring the challenging targets are achieved. For example:

  • all of Sydney’s properties have been included in the City’s trigeneration tender which also provides options for finance, and city-wide public/private joint venture energy services companies (ESCOs). Specifications for the trigeneration systems allow them to be extended beyond individual buildings into precinct-based systems supplying nearby buildings not in city ownership. This would establish the city’s first low carbon zones
  • all the City’s properties will be included in the building energy efficiency retrofit project, which will go out to tender later this year
  • energy-efficient LED lighting will be installed in all 8500 of Sydney’s street and public domain lights over the next three years following the completion of a trial of 250 LED light columns.

In other measures, a Sydney Better Buildings Partnership is proposed to be set up to reduce the carbon footprint of big commercial buildings in the city, and high level advocacy is under way to find ways of removing regulatory and institutional barriers to decentralised energy.


The Trigeneration Master Plan will establish not just the electricity, heating and cooling loads throughout the city but also the physical locations of the trigeneration stations and primary district energy routes on a precinct by precinct basis or low carbon zones. With over 200 properties the City of Sydney is in a good position to facilitate most, if not all of the physical locations required to implement the trigeneration system throughout the city, along with the other green infrastructure that will co-locate with the trigeneration system.

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As part of the City of Sydney’s ambitious plans to reduce its own carbon emissions it is installing decentralized solar PV plants on its own buildings, such as the Redfern Community Centre seen here.

Each of the trigeneration systems are likely to vary in size from 1 MWe to 30 MWe (the current exempt generation limit in New South Wales) depending on the energy density, proximity to electricity and gas connections and available land for the physical locations of the trigeneration plant. The City has a very detailed property floor-by-floor database for the whole of the city and has obtained detailed electricity and gas consumption and profile data from Energy Australia and Jemena, the electricity and gas distribution network operators, which are working with the City and the Kinesis Consortium so that the master plan is as accurate as possible. The master plan is expected to be published in August/September 2010.


The Renewable Energy Master Plan will establish not only the renewable electricity resource both inside and outside the City’s local government area but also the renewable gases derived from all forms of waste, including agriculture and farming, and coal seam methane gas resource underneath the Sydney basin.

The Alternative Waste Master Plan will also contribute renewable gases derived from domestic and commercial waste in the city using advanced technologies such as plasma arc gasification rather than incineration. A common energy carrier is sought, most likely syngas, to supplement natural gas for trigeneration and possibly transport.


Expressions of interest have been received and the project will shortly be put out to tender. The request for tender will be based on an output specification and provide for ESCO finance and city-wide ESCO options. Sufficient large-scale energy services companies have submitted expressions of interest not only in the design, installation, operation and maintenance of the trigeneration project but also in the ESCO finance and city-wide ESCO options. The successful tender will be determined on the best value approach, particularly on maximising delivery of the City’s core climate change and energy targets.

The project comprises trigeneration for the five aquatic centres, town hall precinct, Customs House and potentially another 80 sites in Sydney. All of the sites in the City’s property portfolio have been included in the specification to provide maximum flexibility and opportunity to the tenderers, not only to supply low carbon decentralized energy, but also to use this project and the associated sites as catalysts to develop precinct-based trigeneration or low carbon zones throughout the city.

If the full potential of trigeneration is realized, most if not all of the City’s energy supplies could cease to be supplied from the grid/coal-fired centralized power generation and be supplied by local decentralized energy within 12 to 18 months.

Work is continuing with Energy Australia to develop the framework for enabling an agreement for exempt supply operation, to allow the City (or its ESCO) to trade the surplus trigeneration electricity across Energy Australia’s distribution network to supply itself with low carbon electricity.

For the City-owned option, the City can supply itself with its own electricity using an exemption. This would enable it to supply itself in the interim but not others. The latter will require a regulatory change similar to the UK.


In 2007, the City of Sydney became the first carbon neutral local government in Australia, primarily due to the purchase of ‘GreenPower’ renewable electricity and other carbon offsets as well as increased energy efficiency.

This was always envisaged as a transitional strategy whilst the City found ways to deliver its major carbon reducing projects.

Four solar photovoltaic projects have already been implemented, including the heritage listed Sydney Town Hall, and 10 solar water heating projects on community buildings in the past 12 months, with a further three solar projects currently under construction. However, the City does not have a sustainable budget for renewable energy to deliver its 25% to 30% target so it decided in May 2010 to cease spending $2 million a year on ‘GreenPower’ purchase, and to use this money for a renewable energy fund for implementing renewable energy on its own buildings and operations.

The City has also decided to retire its Renewable Energy Certificates so that its renewable energy and emissions reductions are additional to Australia’s Kyoto target rather than part of it. The City would retain its carbon neutrality status through the purchase of more cost-effective carbon offsets which would decline as more renewable energy, trigeneration and efficiency improvements were implemented.

The first of these projects will be a 5 year solar PV project based on a design and build framework agreement to upscale, and rapidly roll out solar PV across the City’s property portfolio. This technology has been initially selected for the programme as it is easily identified, can be deployed quickly at scale and compliments the electricity generation profile of trigeneration.

More renewable energy projects will follow once other renewable energy resources have been identified in the Renewable Energy Master Plan, including investment in large-scale renewables outside of the City.


The City published its paper on removing the barriers to trigeneration in March. This included a report on how the regulatory barriers were removed in the UK, based on the work of Woking and the London Climate Change Agency, and an Institute for Sustainable Futures discussion paper and action plan commissioned by the City on issues and barriers to developing trigeneration in Sydney.

The City of Sydney will continue with its high level advocacy campaign to remove the regulatory and institutional barriers to trigeneration, renewable energy and other forms of decentralized energy.


The work that the City has embarked on will identify how its energy and climate change targets can be delivered over the next 20 years whilst, at the same time, using its resources to implement projects on its own buildings and operations to the same scale as the targets for the city as a whole, but at a more accelerated rate on the ‘show by doing’ principle.

The City will also utilize its own land and property to facilitate the development of larger-scale projects such as the large-scale precinct-based trigeneration systems or low carbon zones. It is recognized by the City of Sydney that City government is best placed to facilitate such deep cuts in carbon emissions on the ‘show by doing’ principle, as well as catalyzing the private sector into investment and implementation of the large-scale carbon reducing projects that will be needed to deliver the 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. This approach can be applied to any community in Australia or indeed the world.

Allan Jones MBE is the chief development officer, energy and climate change with the City of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Email:  web:

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