We ran a story earlier this week on an office in Adelaide that has gone completely off-grid. It’s only a couple of days old, but sometimes a story comes along whose message demands to be repeated, loudly.

Not only was this project using innovation in renewable technology to go off-grid, its use of prefab construction meant that it could be constructed for around half the cost of a typical office built to Green Star standards, and also less than a standard office, according to the company behind the project, Fluid Solar.

Now this was only a 3000-square-metre office – a far cry from the Premium grade high-rise offices we’re pushing to get to net zero (come to our Visit Tomorrowland event to see how this is going and if it’s even possible) – but it did point to a viable way for “a significant proportion” of new medium-rise commercial office buildings to go net zero right now (the energy retailers aren’t happy).

Not only was construction cheaper, the prefab modular construction meant that internal layouts could be endlessly configurable with “literally any internal layout possible” – that’s gotta be attractive for tenants.

The cheap costs are also translating to the residential sector, where Davies is already working on net zero tiny houses, detached homes and now medium density residential. It is in the latter where he is attempting to innovate and offer something akin to the build to rent model, where a low fixed rent can be charged to tenants, with the added bonus of negligible or included bills.

“My intention is to make it affordable for people to live comfortably – not to be desperately hot in summer or in a freezing box in winter,” Davies said.

“The real challenge is to provide good quality housing at a price that people can afford.”

Innovation in renewables and building materials is not only working to cut costs for the issues that currently matter most to Australians – housing and energy – it’s also creating jobs.

In the Adelaide example, Davies told us he’d been to the Holden jobs fair where thousands of workers are set to be laid off when the plant closes in October.

It’s well known that there’s transferrable skill sets between auto manufacture and prefab housing manufacture (See Building a housing industry from the relics of a car industry), and Davies thinks his company may be able to engage about 80 of the workers to help the scale up of prefab panel and solar thermal production.

Jobs are also being created in the renewables sphere, with a recent boom in large-scale projects (46 under construction at the end of 2016-17) creating enough jobs to employ 8868 people nationally over the last financial year (8868 job-years of employment), according to the Renewable Energy Index, published by Green Energy Markets. The rooftop solar sector also supported 3769 full-time jobs.

Let’s not forget all those renewables plants are going ahead because they’re now cheaper than fossil fuels. Another shining example of South Australian innovation – the Port Augusta solar thermal plant– is testament to this.

Meanwhile our federal government is watering down Finkel review recommendations and elements within the Liberal party are pushing for coal plants to be built by the government itself.

If only the current government could accept the inevitable changes and help implement a transition path so those workers in the jobs of the past – in fossil fuels and, unfortunately, auto-manufacture – can move into the industries of the future – renewables and advanced housing manufacture.

As University of Melbourne Associate Professor Tuan Ngo said in our article last week, Australia has the opportunity to create an eco-friendly export industry out of high-performance prefabricated construction products.

“The next generation of prefabricated structures can benefit from Australia’s eco-friendly, prefabricated housing research, which is striving to deliver breakthrough products to enable our housing industry to compete on a global stage,” he said.

A brighter future is ours for the taking that can help to tackle climate change, energy costs, housing affordability and job market restructuring. Our governments need to step up to make this happen.

Build to rent on the way

We mentioned build to rent above, and it’s funny how fast things can move – especially when it comes to hot-button items such as housing affordability and how the magic and vitality of our cities could be threatened if all the young creative folk move away.

News leaked through recently that London is now experiencing a net loss of people in nearly every age group and the blame has been placed on housing prices.

Sure, cities need to be constantly invigorated with new blood and flows of blood either way. But we know there is a double-edged sword when artists move to low-cost working class areas to set up their art galleries and the social dislocation that creates. In some places the locals are fighting back and calling it social cleansing.

So when Mirvac, the NSW government and UBS flagged they would do something about build to rent housing – which we hope also means longer-term secure housing at affordable prices – it maybe means the message is getting through to establishment parts of our economic universe.

This week (on Thursday) the AFR carried a story that said Mirvac had appointed UBS to seek “off-market expressions of interest from institutional groups to form a club to develop and own build-to-rent housing.” With a global roadshow set to get under way this week.

The platform, “Liv. by Mirvac”, is looking to raise about $164 million by way of a “club” for one project with another three projects in its sights, for an end value of around $750 million and additional capital cities investments for around $1 billion, the report said.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet told a Property Council lunch in Sydney recently that the state government would also look into the issue through a working group.

Other companies understood to be involved in the space are Greystar and Macquarie Group, AFR said.

One reply on “News from the front desk Issue: No 354 – On innovation, renewables, jobs and transition”

  1. What is Australia doing about demanding very energy efficient building envelopes coupled with direct current (DC) building infrastructure (PV and Batteries use DC, all appliances that include electronics use dc and we are moving back to on site generation) with city blocks of similar buildings connected via islagdable DC micrograms?

    It is one thing to individual homes with PV and batteries connected to the grid, it is something entirely different to be able to manage and aggregate those 30 odd homes via a local grid.

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