The first apartment block in Australia to retrospectively install solar PV and energy storage has slashed its electricity bills by 50% in its first year of operation, as reports Domain.
And the 40 residents of the small, three-storey building, mostly tenants and students on low incomes, say this is an excellent example for other multi-apartment houses across Australia.
“Our example shows what’s possible,” says one of the renters of an apartment in the Newtown heritage building, Sydney University neuroscience student Edie Griffin, aged 20.
“It’s made a real difference to our bills. I used to pay $97 per quarter for electricity, but now my bill is down to just $29. It’s a wonderful experiment.”
This became possible with the help of 114 PV panels and 36 batteries. The energy storage is used to store clean power during peak hours when electricity prices are three to four times the off-peak cost. All residents share a microgrid with a software system that keeps track of how much power each unit used so it can bill each apartment individually.
The installation took place in December 2016 and was backed by landlords and grants from different sources.
Since then, tenants at the block Stucco have saved as much as 55% on their power bills. Instead of paying around $540 per annum, they spend, on average, $240 a year. The excess power is being sold back to the grid.
The project, a brainchild of a former resident student, Dr. Bjorn Sturmberg—who came up with the idea while completing his PhD in physics about how to improve efficiency in solar cells—cost $130,000, which will pay for itself within six years.
“There are three main hurdles apartment buildings have to overcome if they want to do something similar,” says Dr. Sturmberg, the founder of SunTenants. His social enterprise helps other rentals go solar.
These hurdles are: securing enough space on the rooftop for solar panels, finding investment and dealing with the paperwork.
In case of the roof space, Dr. Sturmberg suggests installing on a façade if it’s not overshadowed.
Getting your strata committee to agree and finance the investment is the second thing to get done.
“And thirdly, there’s the regulatory landscape, which I thought would take three months to sort out, but ended up taking 18,” says Dr. Sturmberg.
To make it less challenging for larger blocks, Dr. Sturmberg suggests starting off by using renewables for shared spaces: as power for elevators, heat for swimming pools, lighting in car parking and around the common areas.
Tenants are paying higher rents in return for cheaper power bills.
“As we’re students, we don’t have much money and this system has provided savings that have allowed us to work less and study more,” says Ms. Griffin. “It makes living in a city so much more affordable.”
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