RESEARCH

Current projects

The following is a snapshot of current research. As the projects progress, I will publish summaries of results and policy recommendations and provide links to published journal articles.

 

Accounting for carbon in the planning for residential neighbourhoods (AUDRC)

Climate change is an ongoing challenge, having both global and local impacts. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates suggest that cities are responsible for 75 percent of global COz emissions with transport and buildings being amongst the largest contributors .  Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to mitigate against more severe climate change, and adaptations must be implemented to manage the impacts of changes already underway. Western Australia’s (WA) Climate Policy, released by the State Government in 2020, sets an aspiration for net zero GHG emissions by 2050, with the State Sectoral Emissions Reduction Strategy  released at the end of 2023. For buildings it discusses the need to reduce both direct (activity based) emissions as well as selecting products and materials with lower embodied emissions being critical to the decarbonisation of the buildings sector. WA Climate legislation is also being developed to embed the net zero GHG emissions by 2050 target in law, including annual GHG reporting through parliament. The Commonwealth has legislated through the Climate Bill a 43% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030. At the international level – the most recent UN IPCCC assessment report, AR6 working Group III report  has stated that significant emissions reduction is needed this decade to avert dangerous climate change ideally to a 1.5C warming or less.

Given the significant contribution of cities to global GHG emissions understanding how structure planning processes for new residential neighbourhoods can best contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority. This should consider how accounting for emissions can be accomplished at the planning stage and followed through to the implementation and delivery stages. There is a need to include a methodology for the assessment of planning intent, as well as more detailed consideration through construction and operation.

WA’s State Planning Policy (SPP 7.2) includes a requirement for precinct structure planning to consider greenhouse gas emissions reduction and incorporation of renewable energy sources, as well as the preparation of an Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Statement. The Statement outlines and demonstrates how the planning and proposed design of a precinct plan area reduces greenhouse gas emissions over Business as Usual approaches and incorporates renewable energy sources.

This project is of considerable importance as the impact of poor planning of new residential areas significantly contributes to the locking in of GHG emissions into the future, up to 50 years. This research will provide an evidence base and tools to support better decision-making and assessment in the planning and design of new neighbourhoods.

The research considers the physical and social geography factors of new, predominantly residential neighbourhoods in metropolitan Perth and Peel and how planning and design impact the behaviour of residents, including factors affecting travel, transport and access to places of work, services and entertainment. The work will also inform planning and design in regional areas of Western Australia.

The overarching scope of the research is to:

  • examine how the design of new greenfield and existing densifying neighbourhoods can reduce carbon emissions and contribute to the creation of low or zero-carbon neighbourhoods;
  • identify the primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in neighbourhoods and how emissions can be reduced through urban planning and design interventions related to subdivision patterns, street networks, open space systems, residential densities, building types, and environmental conditions;
  • determine how the modelling and reporting of emissions would occur at the district and local structure plan stages and how these could be followed through to implementation; and
  • establish key indicators and assessment methodologies applicable at the district and local structure planning stages for residential areas.

Phase 1 of the project is now complete and key findings will be published shortly. In the second phase we will be developing a system dynamics model that will facilitate the testing of urban design and built form scenarios.

 

Future Climate, Future Home: Adaptive urban design strategies for WA (AUDRC)

Through a rare collaboration between experts in urban and landscape design, public health, climate science and climate, energy and water modelling, the project will generate evidence to inform solutions and policy decisions concerning the climate change adaptation of urban precincts and housing to projected changes in temperature and rainfall and to foster healthy and climate-resilient communities across WA’s climate regions.

The objectives of the project are:

  • Benchmark the performance of selected urban precinct and housing case studies across WA’s climate regions concerning Urban Heat Island (UHI) effects, thermal comfort of the outdoor environments, energy demand for heating and cooling within houses, and irrigation demands for public and private open spaces.
  • Identify changes between the current and likely future performance of urban precinct and housing case studies due to climate change-induced variations in temperature and rainfall.
  • Develop and evaluate the performance of design proposals to adapt urban precinct and housing case studies to projected CC using micro-climatic, building energy, and water modelling and community engagement.
  • Develop Climate Sensitive Urban Design principles for adaptation of WA urban precincts and housing to temperature and rainfall changes for inclusion in the revision of future state and local government policies and design guidance.
  • The project has great potential to be extended to assess and engage with both regional schools and Indigenous communities.

Modelling is a core element of the research. We have two PhD students working on the research. One is using the sophisticated ENVI-met micro-climate modelling software to evaluate the performance of precincts across WA. The other is using EnergyPlus to model the thermal comfort and energy performance of housing. By utilising the climate projections from the CMIP6 – Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase (the basis of the climate projections in the latest IPCC Assessment Report 6) we will project the likely future thermal performance of the built environment as it is currently constituted, and with a suite of adaptation strategies.

The project has recently got underway and we are in the process of developing initial ENVI-met models of the selected precincts.

 

Critical minerals and the energy transition

The transition from fossil fuel based energy systems to renewables will require massive increases in production of the so-called critical minerals, many of which have been exploited for more than 100 years. The world will move from a reliance on one set of finite resources to another during the 21st century while population and economic growth continue.  The purpose of this study is to identify whether the declining grade of both fossil fuels (i.e. reducing Energy Return on Energy Invested) and / or critical mineral ore grades will constrain the energy transition. A system dynamics model was developed to simulate various energy transition scenarios and the associated additional production energy required as the resources decline in quality to 2100. The results indicate that with ambitious growth in renewables, the depletion of mineral resources will lead to unacceptably high production energy requirements some time in the latter half of this century or early in the next. If fossil fuels continue to be retained in the energy mix at high levels, oil and gas resources will become depleted later this century, while exacerbating climate change.

 

Inequality and wellbeing

Income inequality has been growing in most developed nations since the late 1970s. The empirical evidence links the level of inequality with a range of health and social problems, although the exact causality is debated. This study explores the relationship between income inequality and social and economic factors in developed countries, using Australia as an example. Modelling is used to investigate mechanisms to reduce inequality over time through redistribution of income from high to lower level income groups. The simulations illustrate the potential economic implications and social benefits accruing from reduced inequality.

 

Previous research and publications

The following is a selection of published work from previous research.

Grace, W. (2023). Optimising generation and energy storage in the transition to net zero power networks. Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability, 8, 7. doi:10.1051/rees/2023008

Bolleter, J., Grace, B., Edwards, N., Foster, S., & Hooper, P. (2022). The big squeeze: maintaining the green infrastructure role of estuarine foreshores while adapting to sea-level rise. Journal of Urban Design, 1-29. doi:10.1080/13574809.2022.2097902

Bolleter, J., Grace, B., & Freestone, R. (2022). Preparing Australia for a potential surge in environmental migration. Australian Planner, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1-14. doi:10.1080/07293682.2022.2116061

Bolleter, J., Grace, B., Freestone, R., & Hooper, P. (2022). Informing future Australian settlement planning through a national-scale suitability analysis. International Planning Studies, 27(1), 18-43. doi:10.1080/13563475.2021.1899903

Grace, W. (2022). Ecological dynamics, resilience and sustainability. Total Environment Research Themes, 100011.

Bolleter, J., Grace, B., Hooper, P., & Foster, S. (2021). Wet-bulb Temperature and Sea-level Rise in the United Arab Emirates – Planning Responses. Planning, practice & research, 36(4), 408-429. doi:10.1080/02697459.2020.1859199

Bolleter, J., Grace, B., Foster, S., Duckworth, A., & Hooper, P. (2021). Projected Extreme Heat Stress in Northern Australia and the Implications for Development Policy. Planning Practice & Research, 1-23. doi:10.1080/02697459.2021.2001733

Grace, B., & Pope, J. (2021). A systems approach to cumulative social impact assessment. In Handbook of Cumulative Impact Assessment: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Grace, B., & Thompson, C. (2020). All roads lead to retreat: adapting to sea level rise using a trigger-based pathway. Australian Planner, 1-9. doi:10.1080/07293682.2020.1775665

Grace, W. (2019). Engineering the transition to sustainability. Australian Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering, 1-11. doi:10.1080/14488388.2019.1693885

Grace, W. (2019). Resource dependency – insights from modelling. Paper presented at the 37th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Grace, W. (2019b). Transitioning power networks to renewable energy: an Australian case study. Paper presented at the 37th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Grace, W. (2018). Exploring the Death Spiral: A system dynamics model of the electricity network in Western Australia. In Transition Towards 100% Renewable Energy (pp. 157-170): Springer.

Grace, W., & Parker, M. (2017). Worklife Satisfaction – Subjective Wellbeing in the Workplace. Paper presented at the The 35th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, Cambridge, MA.

Grace, W. (2016). The Role of Exports in Regional Economies – A System Dynamics model of the Western Australian economy. Paper presented at the The 34th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, Delft, Netherlands.

Grace, W. (2015). Exploring the Death Spiral – a system dynamics model of the South West Interconnected System. Retrieved from Perth: https://www.audrc.org/exploring-the-death-spiral/

Grace, W. (2015). Exploring the Death Spiral: A system dynamics model of the electricity network in Western Australia. Paper presented at the 33rd International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Grace, W. (2015). Simulating sustainability: a resources perspective. Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research, 191-220. doi:10.1080/19390459.2015.1050202

Grace, W., & Pope, J. (2015). A systems approach to sustainability assessment. In Morrison-Saunders A, Pope J, & B. A (Eds.), Handbook of Sustainability Assessment: Edward Elgar.

Grace, B., Martens, S., Taylor, M., & Sack, C. (2006). THE WUNGONG URBAN WATER PROJECT: TOWARD SUSTAINABLE WATER MANAGEMENT IN THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT. Paper presented at the 1st National HYDROPOLIS Conference 2006 Burswood Convention Centre Perth, Western Australia.

Grace, W. (2007). Sustainable urban living–A Perth perspective. Australian Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering, 5(1), 49-59.

Pope, J., & Grace, W. (2006). Sustainability assessment in context: Issues of process, policy and governance. Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 8(03), 373-398.

Grace, W. (2004). Integration–The Central Sustainability Challenge. In: CSIRO Sustainability Network Update.