Flying in the face of the common belief that renters (and low income renters at that) can’t afford or justify pursuing solar power for their apartment homes, a Sydney student cooperative took on the challenge to create Australia’s first community-controlled apartment solar system. And won.
Currently, around three quarters of inner Sydney residents live in apartments. While high-rise living is often seen as more energy efficient than a freestanding home, on a building level, utility consumption per person in apartments is actually higher. Up to 60% of an apartment building’s total energy is taken up by common areas like underground carparks
So what’s the solution?
When it comes to choosing clean energy like solar, apartment residents are in a bind, especially if they are renting. Tenants are unable to install panels on common property and if solar does exist in the building, it is used to power shared spaces. Owners are reluctant too, as this is a job that requires a substantial investment and approval from the body corporate. And rejigging an entire building is logistically difficult.
If you’re not a student, you may not realise the challenge of affordable student housing is a thing (but it’s not a new thing: where have you been hiding?)
To address this growing issue, a non-profit organisation called Stucco launched in Sydney 1991. As a housing cooperative, they work to provide affordable student housing which in this case, meant tossing out the idea of installing solar panels in individual units in apartment blocks and instead, establishing their own solar and storage system. The co-op’s unique management structure then allowed them to ensure all residents had equally affordable access to energy.
Given a leg up with an environmental performance innovation grant from the City of Sydney, the Stucco team tapped into new developments in renewables and came up with a unified solar panel and battery system of 114 panels and 36 batteries that produces 30 kWh and has a storage capacity of 42.3 kW. The system is designed to deliver around 80% of the building’s energy. (But they add that could go to 100% on some days!) They also developed a power purchasing agreement which establishes how residents buy and access electricity.
Next, they hope the model can be replicated to help social housing, private apartments and office buildings transition away from reliance on energy from fossil fuels. The sky’s the limit. Literally.
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