Aged care facilities in warm areas experienced greater energy reductions during the April lockdown than facilities in hot or temperate climates, a Queensland University of Technology study has found.

The study, published in Energy and Buildings, compared past electricity use with demand during the lockdown period from late March to April 2020 to explore the impact COVID-19 had on energy use and peak demand times.

It involved six Bolton Clarke aged care facilities in Queensland (five) and New South Wales (one), which categorised into three climates:

  • temperate – Sydney and Toowoomba
  • warm – Brisbane and Logan
  • hot – Cairns and Townsville

Lead researcher Aaron Liu said the study found facilities in warm regions had the most significant energy reduction during the study period.

“We discovered that the largest or most significant energy reduction happened in the Brisbane and Logan areas in the subtropical climate zone,” Mr Liu told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Aaron Liu

“For the tropical areas, including Cairns and Townsville, or in temperate zones like Sydney or Toowoomba, they didn’t experience a significant reduction in energy or peak demand like we saw in Brisbane or Logan,” said Mr Liu, a research fellow at QUT’s School of Architecture and Built Environment.

The study found an 11 per cent to 23 per cent reduction in median daily energy use and peak demand in the Brisbane and Logan facilities compared to previous years.

The reduction may be a result of operational changes, the study found.

In Sydney and Toowoomba, there were more morning peak energy demands rather than evening ones.

“This may be due to their comparative cooler mornings and certain energy use behaviour in that climate, along with the reduction of energy use through the day during lockdowns,” the report said.

There was no consistent visible change in daily energy use or peak demand in the Cairns and Townsville facilities, it said.

Mr Liu’s PhD supervisor QUT Associate Professor Wendy Miller said climate was big factor in energy use.

“The fact that there was a reduction in Brisbane and Logan regions seem to indicate that it was climate related, so it was hotter weather,” Dr Miller told AAA.

During the lockdown periods, the aged care facilities had restrictions on visitors and ceased group activities, but the study was unable to measure how this affected energy use and demand, said Dr Miller, an Associate Professor in energy.

This study is part of larger research looking at the role of air conditioning and renewable energies in aged care facilities, she said

As aged care is both a place where people live and work, it’s unique in its energy needs and requirements, and quite different to housing and offices, Dr Miller said.

“There is a lot we don’t know yet about how we can fit energy and sustainability in aged care centres and keep both the residents and the workers safe, comfortable and healthy in the indoor environment.”

Mr Liu said he was interested in doing further research that investigates the impact of COVID-19-related  lockdown on aged care facilities over a year.  

Access the study here.

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