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Going green enters “no brainer” territory for strata sector

There’s a new level of awareness about sustainability in the strata sector, and solar energy and electric vehicle charging are the hot emerging trends, according to Green Strata president Christine Byrne.

Byrne told The Fifth Estate a few years ago hardly anyone was looking at even simple efficiency measures like changing lighting to LEDs. Now it is common for owners corporations to have already implemented the switch.

Now they’re asking, “What’s the next thing?”

Byrne says its time for strata owners corporations to look at solar because the price point has come down, and she believes it is now viable for about 80 per cent of strata residential buildings.

“This year is the beginning of a surge in solar in strata,” she says.

Owners corporations need to consider size of the roof in comparison to the number of apartments.

While many towers might struggle to find sufficient space to install enough solar panels to make a major difference in common energy bills, the 80 per cent of strata properties in NSW with 20 lots or less have a major opportunity, Byrne says.

Not only do they typically have more roof space per head compared with a tower, they also often have little in the way of energy-using common property aside from some lighting, and may find it easier to connect solar PV to individual apartment electricity meters.

That makes solar for individual apartments viable, particularly now there is technology available such as panels with microinverters that negate the need to install a large bank of inverters.

So we could see a series of individual two kilowatt systems, for example, each wired to the individual apartment owner’s meter.

“It is getting into no brainer territory.”

Advances in business models for solar are also removing one of the major barriers that used to exist in terms of uptake.

For owners of investment apartments with tenants in them, there has been no incentive to install solar, as the savings go to the tenant.

However Byrne says businesses such as SunTenants are exciting, as it makes solar applicable in strata for investment owners as they can see a financial return. That makes it easier for the owners corporation to get agreement to pass a resolution on solar.

No longer the forgotten sector

Other companies in the tech start-up space are also making it possible for larger buildings to find a way to share solar power between apartments.

“There are start-ups looking at these problems now and seeing that the market is huge,” Byrne says.

“It is really encouraging to see the brains being applied to the issues [in strata]. We are not the forgotten sector now.”

NABERS for apartments to help

Another obvious factor that will have an impact on energy efficiency and water efficiency will be the launch of the pilot NABERS for multi-residential mid next year, she says.

“It will be a game-changer and help us move up the traditional adoption curve. It will help create awareness.”

Generally, there are more people seeing opportunities around sustainability and asking questions about it, Byrne says.

And not everyone is waiting for funding or grants to get moving.

“There will always be some that need a push [from a grant],” she says.

A lot of councils do have programs in the space, particularly in NSW, ACT and Victoria, and for some of them it is part of their overall emissions reduction or energy use reduction targets.

Storage of renewable energy is not yet gaining much traction, Byrne says, because “the price point is not right yet”.

However, EVs is an area where there is some movement.

Some “forward thinking” developers are starting to include EV charging, Byrne says.

For existing buildings, the big question is, “How many EVs can you charge before there is not enough capacity to keep the lifts running and the lights on.”

Given the projections around EV uptake it’s important for owners corporations to be doing the groundwork.

“People need to get on the front foot now.”

That also means work needs to be done around what steps need to be taken to put EV charging infrastructure in place, and what the options are in terms of technology.

“There are more and more people applying good brains to what the issues are, and working to identify the problems before they become widespread big problems,” Byrne says.

One of the major benefits of EVs is that in terms of the movements throughout a building, the majority of vehicle movements coincide with peak energy use and peak tariffs. Charging mostly happens at night.

“There is the potential to increase demand at night.”

One of the concerns Byrne has is that if Australia keeps lagging behind the EV take-up of places like Europe, we could end up as a dumping ground for EV technology that is becoming obsolete in more advanced markets.

For an individual in a strata building, to install a charge point in their own personal carpark would require permission from the strata committee, Byrne says.

Currently, most people charge EVs by using “trickle feed” from a common area power point in the car park area. This does add a small amount to common area energy bills.

Byrne says one of the options strata bodies have is to set up charge points on common property, and then charge EV owners on an annual basis for the use of them.

People are also looking at getting faster charging options than trickle feed, Byrne says.

Growing EV uptake also makes the energy efficiency task more important, she says, as it will allow a building to handle the load of charging without needing to upgrade building substations or other power supply systems.

Byrne predicts that within the next three months, we will see a lot more action in this space.

“It’s early days. But at least people understand the potential problems and best solutions.”

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