Living in the Era of “Coolth”

Image credit: iStockphoto/katrinaelena

Anyone who has been to Sydney will know that it gets hotter the further west you go.

It’s not uncommon for the eastern and inner western suburbs to post-summer temperatures in the low 30 degrees, while those out west swelter in the high 30s or even low 40s. The closer a suburb is to the coast, the higher the rainfall is likely to be.

One of the recreation areas which suffers from this is Bicentennial Park, a 40-hectare area in Homebush — home to the 2000 Olympics. This is where the New South Wales Government cleaned up a toxic wasteland and transformed it into a national showpiece for the Olympics, leaving behind an infrastructure and recreational precinct of which Bicentennial Park is one part.

The precinct has continued to be a center for innovation, with one planned project set to tackle the ongoing problem of heat and water scarcity in the park.

At the nearby University of Western Sydney, a research team led by Associate Professor Sebastian Pfautsch is using the park as the testbed for an AUD2.5 million pilot project called SIMPACT — Smart Irrigation Management for Parks and Cool Towns — which is a collaboration between government, tertiary institutions, and private industry.

Irrigation gets smarter

SIMPACT is an Australian version of the smart irrigation projects being implemented in many cities worldwide. The Colombian city of Cartagena, for example, is also using the autonomous and real-time management of water resources, allowing control over the irrigation schedule and adapting to the garden’s needs and the weather forecast. 

A similar approach was taken in far north Queensland, where artificial intelligence gleaned from several years of water use data was used to minimize chemical run-off into the Great Barrier Reef and provide healthier green spaces in Cairns. That 2019 project was estimated to save 583 liters of water per year per square meter of parkland.

“For the first time, artificial intelligence will control when and how much water is distributed across an entire park to cool its microclimate”

Sydney’s SIMPACT will use artificial intelligence and technology to cool the park’s microclimate. A network of more than 250 environmental sensors was set up to record soil moisture and air temperature, with the captured data used to fine-tune the park.  

This means that park users will be able to download an app that will tell them the coolest and shadiest places in the park for picnics and exercise.

“For the first time, artificial intelligence will control when and how much water is distributed across an entire park to cool its microclimate,” said Associate Professor Pfautsch.

“The project will use cutting edge science to monitor water use and temperatures, allowing Sydney Olympic Park Authority to optimize their water management and irrigation system.

“With increasingly hot summers, including in Greater Western Sydney, smart climate management of green spaces such as parks can make a substantial contribution to reduce urban heat and ensures residents can access the outdoors.”

Benefits of “coolth”

This project uses only recycled water and represents a large-scale prototype of how smart water management can ease the pressure on our most valuable natural resource.

In addition to making parks more comfortable for users, the goal is to reduce water consumption by 15% in the first two years and more over time. The system also saves on time for park managers.

This is vital in keeping inland cities liveable when weather conditions are becoming more extreme, and some areas are without rain for extended periods.

Professor Pfautsch uses the word “coolth” — the opposite of warmth — to describe what the technology delivers, but beyond the comfort that it gives to park visitors, the system will help to optimize the microclimate and water use in summer.

The technology implementation need not stop at the Bicentennial Park, of course. New South Wales and the rest of Australia are full of large popular public places that could also benefit from “coolth.”

“Our technology will be scalable, delivering maximum coolth from plants around buildings and parks anywhere, if you have enough water to irrigate,” he says.

Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and the NextGenConnectivity editor. He remains fascinated with how businesses reinvent themselves through digital technology to solve existing issues and change their entire business models. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/katrinaelena