Exterior of CSIRO Energy Centre. It is a modern facility that features a large photovoltaic panel on the front of the building.

CSIRO Energy Technology - Newcastle

CSIRO Energy Centre

The CSIRO Energy Centre provides a focus for energy research in Australia, showcasing ecological design alongside world-class science facilities, delivering innovations in renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emission fossil fuel research

  • 31 May 2005 | Updated 7 May 2014

Situated in Newcastle, the traditional heartland of Australia’s coal industry and the largest coal export harbour in the world, the CSIRO Energy Centre is a state-of-the-art research facility specialising in renewable energy and low emission fossil fuel research.

The Centre plays a pivotal role in Australia’s energy research landscape as a centre for excellence in energy modelling, large-scale solar and carbon capture technologies, renewable energy integration and energy efficiency.

It is the headquarters for both CSIRO Energy Technology and the Energy Flagship.

The player will show in this paragraph

CSIRO Energy Centre
This building has a mind of its own.


This building has a mind of its own.

In summer, these solar chimneys help hot air escape, while cool air is pulled into the building from underneath.
In winter, the bricks and cladding of these walls help create warmth inside while power from both the wind and the sun creates energy for heating, cooling, lighting and power.

Even the long narrow design of the building means more natural light can penetrate further into the offices and hallways meaning less reliance on artificial lighting. It’s a building like no other in the southern hemisphere.

The Energy Centre, which is the headquarters for CSIRO Energy Technology and the Energy Transformed Flagship, was established as a research centre to provide solutions to the critical issues of climate change.

And in order to practice what they preach, a remarkably innovative and ecologically sustainable facility was created. By responding to the environment and the use of clever design, it not only saves energy, it creates most of the energy it needs to function.

Since climate change has become part of our vernacular, we have all learned to take shorter showers, turn off lights and recycle, but this is no longer enough. The innovations in the Energy Centre buildings, not only uses renewable power, they are smart enough to take over when its human occupants forget.

This building can tell when to automatically switch to its natural ventilation system, taking advantage of the hot air rising from the lower part of the room.

Usually air conditioning vents are in the ceiling or high on the wall, cooling the top part of the room where nobody sits. Here, an underfloor system creates micro climates in the floor, cooling the area of the room that is occupied.

Stairwells act as solar chimneys, continually drawing hot air from the office and lab wings and expelling it from the building through pop up vents on the roof and louvre windows.

Cool air is pulled in from underneath the building and as it heats and rises, it flows outside.

Also, all windows open manually to let in fresh air. This system uses 75 per cent less energy than a standard office.

Because of safety codes, air in the laboratories cannot be re-circulated. This means 100 per cent fresh air needs to be pumped in from outside. When the used air is sucked back out, it passes through a heat exchanger that removes any energy it retains. This energy is transferred into fresh air from outside and is used to either heat or cool the air to 22 degrees Celsius.

During summer, when the sun sits higher in the sky and shines on the top half of this wing, the specially designed cladding material reflects off the heat, so the air conditioner doesn’t have to work as hard.
In winter, when the sun sits low in the sky, it shines on the lower section of the wing and the sun comes in under the louvres, warming the building.

Use of the natural environment means a more temperate climate. In summer, the moisture on the foliage of these plants evaporates, helping to cool the building. In winter the garden mulch creates heat.

Because of the shape and orientation of the building, the sun lights office interiors whenever possible, so there is less reliance on artificial lighting.

Light shelves act like light fittings, using the sun as a lamp. Sunlight hits the white surface and reflects light onto the ceiling, which then radiates down through the room.

Automatic lighting control systems ensure that energy efficient lights automatically turn on and adjust only when needed.

This photo-electric cell measures the amount of natural light coming into the room and determines when artificial lighting is needed.

Motion detectors on the ceilings will detect movement in the room and if after around ten minutes no human activity can be detected, lights are automatically turned off.

Lighting in the office wing uses 90 per cent less energy than a conventional office.

As well as saving energy, the Energy Centre creates energy, supplying most of the power it needs to be self sufficient.

The roof of the library holds building integrated photo voltaic or solar cells, not only providing energy but acting as a water proof membrane for the area. This type of cell is readily commercially available, but the Energy Centre also has three new types of solar arrays that are revolutionary.

These Titania di-solar cells on the western façade are the world’s first commercial instalment of the next generation of solar cell technology. They contain a coloured dye which acts the same efficient way as plants in harvesting sunlight.
Mono-crystalline silicone cells are used as roof tiles on the office roof, laboratory roof and façade of the process bays.
While polycrystalline cells are clipped to the auditorium roof.

The integrated solar arrays on the site produce a maximum of 90 kilowatts of electricity, enough energy to power 40 to 60 houses.

A 60 kilowatt wind turbine system uses small and large wind turbines, which have been positioned to make the best use of the wind. They respond to the climate to take advantage of the most favourable wind conditions.
These renewable energy sources are supplemented by a highly efficient 120 kilowatt micro-gassed turbine co-generation plant.

The primary function of the plant is to supply heating for the entire site via an integrated hot water system, and as a by-product, generates low emissions electricity.

Micro-turbines, essentially a jet engine in a box, each produce 60 kilowatts of energy. Natural gas, pumped into a motor at the back of the box, heats up and expands. It is then pushed through a flue and turns a turbine, connected to an alternator, to produce electricity. They provide heat for the buildings during winter and enough power to run 100 percent of the site.

So many different elements go into making the Centre not only energy efficient, but energy creating, that it needs an efficient management system.

All onsite energy distribution and automatic functions are controlled by a sophisticated building management system, while an advanced energy management system controls demands to and from the grid.

But it’s no use having all these energy saving devices if the humans who occupy the centre don’t know how to utilise it to its maximum capacity. So a big part of the buildings working properly is education.

The Energy Centre saves approximately two thousand tones of CO2 annually, which is the equivalent of taking seven hundred cars of our roads each year.

Mirrors, hundreds of them, reflect the sun’s light to a reactor that sits on a 26 metre tower at the National Solar Energy Centre.

This concentration of solar rays heats the reactor to temperatures of over eight hundred degrees Celsius. When natural gas and water are pumped into the reactor the chemical reaction produces SolarGas, an embodied solar energy, which can be stored or used directly for power generation.

It is the largest high concentration solar array in the southern hemisphere.

Australia’s primary power source for the foreseeable future is coal-fired generation, which has always been one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases. So the development of low emission coal technologies is vital.

When coupled with CO2 sequestration, post combustion capture has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gasses, and offers the potential for near-zero emissions. It will be able to capture more than 85 per cent of C02 gases before they enter the atmosphere. Capturing carbon and storing it in geological formations is seen around the world as one of the solutions to stabilizing atmospheric levels of C02.

The Energy Centre is currently assessing the viability of long-term storage of C02 in coal strata, particularly for power generators in NSW and Queensland, situated close to the right geological formations. This research has economic, environmental and social benefits for Australia and may enable the continued viability of coal- fired power stations, reduce

C02 emissions and ensure on -going access to affordable energy supplies.

Imagine if all these houses could communicate with each other to manage the energy consumption of this suburb. Devices called smart agents are being created to do just that, helping reduce blackouts, improving the reliability of the electricity grid and minimising greenhouse gas emissions. The smart agents communicate and co-ordinate amongst themselves to even out power usage and avoid peak loads. This technology can be used in family homes and industry. It can include the management and control of air conditioning, refrigeration systems, pool pumps and a variety of appliances.
Currently, most commercially available photovoltaic or solar cells are made from silicon, but because silicon needs to be pure, it is expensive. Plastic or organic solar cells would be lighter, more flexible, more attractive and more affordable. They could also potentially be sheet-printed like newspapers, allowing a factory to produce in hours the same number of cells that a conventional silicon wafer factory produces in a year.

But while organic materials show enormous potential, they present a number of technical challenges, which the Energy Centre is working to overcome.

Vibration is a prolific energy source, which can, through the use of transducers, be converted into electrical energy. Vibrations commonly occur in civil structures, such as buildings or bridges and are usually caused by human traffic, cars, trucks, winds or seismic forces. An example is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with hundreds of cars, trucks and trains traversing it every day. If for example the vibration of the bridge created 6 point 6 megawatts energy and just 10 percent could be captured, it would mean a renewable source of energy of 660 kilowatts.

The Energy centre is a showcase for the very latest Australian and international research collaboration in saving energy and creating new renewable energy sources. It is finding solutions for us all, in both our homes and industry, in an effort to eliminate greenhouse gas production and stop the clock on climate change.

Showcase for energy efficient design

Opened in 2003, the CSIRO Energy Centre set a new benchmark in ecologically sustainable design, showcasing innovative energy generation approaches, building demand reduction and supply options.

Recognised for its sustainable and energy efficient design, the CSIRO Energy Centre was a national finalist in the 2004 Australian Engineering Excellence Awards.

The Energy Centre focuses on reducing energy demand and then meeting that demand through a combination of grid provided electricity and distributed generation using gas and renewables.

Energy conservation measures

The building incorporates a number of active and passive measures to conserve energy. These include:

  • building orientation and layout – maximising natural light and allowing for temperature control throughout seasons
  • building insulation – reducing heating and cooling loads
  • opening windows – allowing for natural ventilation
  • window glass selection – minimising heat build up and maintaining natural light
  • energy efficient air-conditioning system – designed for separate and specific uses in laboratories and office areas
  • outside air economy cycle – making use of outside air for cooling
  • automatic lighting control system – only lights areas that are in use
  • building management system – minimising energy use and maximising efficiency.

The CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales, has been designed to maximise light and ventilation and so operate more energy efficiently.

On-site energy generation

The Energy Centre also incorporates an energy generation suite developed for efficiency and to showcase available technologies. These technologies include:

  • a 115 kilowatt photovoltaic system comprising three types of building integrated photovoltaic arrays – monocrystalline and polychrystalline silicon photovoltics and a large titania dye solar cell array
  • a 120 kilowatt gas fired microturbine cogeneration system supplying electricity and hot water
  • a 6 kilowatt integrated wind turbine system comprised of a one kilowatt vertical axis wind turbine and a 5 kilowatt  horizontal axis wind turbines (soon to be installed); and
  • two concentrating solar thermal tower arrays capable of 500 kilowatts and one megawatt thermal output respectively.

Specialised research facilities

The Energy Centre is home to the National Solar Energy Centre, Australia’s leading advanced solar research facility, as well as a number of other specialised laboratories and test facilities, designed and operated by CSIRO. These include: 

Aerial view of the CSIRO Energy Centre,taken from the tower of Solar Field 2, in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

Learn about CSIRO's work in Energy.