Wattblock's Ross McIntyre (left) and Brent Clark

Existing technology has the potential to achieve 45 per cent savings or more on energy bills and a 70 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in residential apartments, according to a pilot program for the City of Sydney, conducted by Wattblock.

The program uses “virtual energy assessments” with data benchmarking and analytics as an alternative to a standard energy audit to identity energy-saving opportunities for 10 buildings ranging from three storeys to 31 storeys high and in age from near-new to over 40 years old.

The outcome showed opportunities to save on energy costs and also reduce energy use and associated carbon emissions.

The news is good for Wattblock, which is is currently in an expansion phase following the launch of a capital raising mid last-year.

Co-founder and director Brent Clark said the company achieved $775,000 of its $1 million target through a mix of equity and government grants. Investors have included both Australian and offshore angel investors, and established enterprise investors including ResMed biotech chairman Peter Farrell.

The company has moved into an office at New South Innovation on the UNSW campus and this is creating opportunities for increased collaboration, Mr Clark said.

It is working with the Solar Engineering School and also the City Futures program, he said.

WattBlock has also joined with City of Sydney to lobby NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman to develop a NABERS tool that can be used in the residential strata sector.

Mr Clark said the value uplift the pilot demonstrated was “not visible” at this time to buyers, owners or sellers, and this is why his company supports the push. He said the firm could also add value to the development of such a tool through an app or digital platform that could be readily used by the sector.

Initiatives presented in the strata project included tariff optimisation, common area energy efficiency, solar energy and creating a microgrid, with the priority based on financial payback and lowest-cost carbon abatement outcomes for owners.

Students from the University of NSW Solar Engineering School were engaged to collect data and survey the participants.

An initial finding was that strata owners underestimated potential savings and overestimated payback times for initiatives.

The survey showed strata representatives initially guessed 17 per cent savings were possible with a seven-year payback.

The assessment reports actually showed an average of $72,787 in annual energy cost savings per block across all included initiatives. This represents an average 68 per cent reduction in grid-energy import and CO2 equivalent emissions.

Where the initiatives included only tariff optimisation and common area energy efficiency, annual common-area energy cost savings still averaged 45 per cent reductions with a 3.6 year payback.

Mr Clarke said that out of the 10 buildings assessed, four were now proceeding to implement some of the major opportunities the assessments identified. One is undertaking both the installation of 10kW of solar plus a $38,000 lighting upgrade to LED at the same time.

Mr Clark said strata buildings would generally take energy efficiency one step at a time, but as the project had roadmapped the potential energy and emissions savings clearly and succinctly, it was easier for the committee to make the decision.

The pilot showed that on average each resident of a strata building could save $383 on energy annually, and that there was an average capital value uplift for each apartment of $8500 after energy efficiency initiatives had been completed and solar installed.

A survey of the solar photovoltaic generation potential of the buildings was carried out at the same time, and solar potential of 306.6 kW across the 10 buildings was identified.

Coupled with tariff optimisation and improved energy efficiency, full uptake of this would create a CO2 abatement potential of about 3948 tonnes a year.

Microgrids also offer savings through bulk energy purchases to give a better rate for both common area use and individual apartments, and also in CO2 reductions, as it allows a building to use up to 80 per cent renewable energy, the report said.

The report also extrapolated the results across the entire City of Sydney apartment sector, finding that overall cost savings of more than $25 million a year were achievable, and a reduction in CO2 emissions of 393,000 tonnes a year, equating to 12 per cent of all abatement required for the council to meet its 2030 target of 70 per cent CO2 emissions reduction.

Council funded the pilot with a $10,000 grant to WattBlock in June 2015.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said it was a “win-win-win” for the city, supporting a high potential local startup while driving down carbon emissions and helping apartment dwellers reduce their electricity bills.

“WattBlock’s technology is a great, cost-effective way for communities to reduce the environmental impact of apartment living and save on power bills. We’re really pleased to be able to help it get up and running,” Ms Moore said.

The final report on the Virtual Energy Assessments project is also being translated into Chinese by students of the language school. Mr Clark said a local council in China was interested in replicating the project.

One of the next steps in Australia, he said, was a joint pitch for a NSW Innovate grant in partnership with a strata manager that aims to create better engagement on energy saving.

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