Hero Building facilities manager Dan Hanily, City of Melbourne councillor Arron Wood and apartment owner Tricia Caswell.

The City of Melbourne has officially launched two landmark solar power projects today (Wednesday), with what is believed to be Australia’s highest commercial building installation at 101 Collins St and the largest retrofitted system on an apartment tower in Melbourne at the Hero Building on Russell St.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said the 59.4 kilowatt system atop 101 Collins was a “new frontier” in the switch to solar.

“This blue chip building is home to some of the world’s most prominent financial institutions: they know a good investment when they see one,” Mr Doyle said.

The system comprises 180 panels that have been installed vertically to maximise solar collection capacity while minimising use of roof space. The system is expected to generate 47,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, reducing the building’s carbon emissions footprint by 59 tonnes annually. The solar power will be used to offset the energy use of cooling the building’s tenancy condenser water system.

The system sits at 195 metres above street level, and the severe wind loads meant the system took seven months to design, engineer and install.

The 101 Collins St installation.

“This solar installation is a continuation of the long term strategy of Eureka Funds Management to reduce the carbon footprint of the assets we manage on behalf of our investors,” Brett Dillon, fund manager for Eureka Funds Management said.

“Since 2008, base building energy use at 101 Collins Street has reduced from 12,000,000 kWh/annum to just 6,700,000 kWh/annum – a drop of 44 per cent”.

The $230,000 cost of the system was partially funded with a $4000 rebate through the City of Melbourne’s Commercial Solar Rebate Program.

Chair of the City of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio councillor Arron Wood said the council’s goal for carbon neutrality was for “the whole municipality” and that the council hoped other building owners would follow the example of 101 Collins.

Hero lives up to its moniker

The owners of the 149 apartments that comprise the 14-storey Hero Building have installed a 50kW solar system to provide power for the lighting and ventilation systems in the building’s common areas.

The base building is partly a former nine-storey telephone exchange that is 60 years old. In 1999 it was converted into an apartment building and five more levels were added.

Sustainability consultant Tricia Caswell, one of the apartment owners, told The Fifth Estate that achieving agreement from the building’s strata committee was not actually as difficult as she initially thought it might be.

“It was not an expensive project in the long term, so the committee could make that decision. We have a very responsible owners committee.”

The 200 solar panels will generate around 53,000kWh of electricity a year and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 66 tonnes a year, equivalent to the annual electricity usage of more than 13 residential homes. Local solar power provider EnviroGroup undertook the design and installation.

The $103,857 cost of the system was partially funded through the sale of $34,188 of small scale technology certificates, a $3000 rebate from the City of Melbourne’s Smart Blocks initiative and financing of $30,000 from the Sustainable Melbourne Fund.

Ms Caswell said payback will be achieved in eight years.

The panels are located on part of the roof that had been vacant space. Ms Caswell said that while there had in the past been discussions about other uses for that space, the installation of solar was readily accepted.

There was some talk about roof rights, and side of building rights, but the issues were worked through, she said.

The building’s committee has also undertaken a number of other efficiency initiatives. Ms Caswell and an engineer from RMIT carried out an environmental review of the building some years ago, she said. This identified opportunities for improvement including the installation of LED lighting, better waste management and other energy efficiency improvements.

Ms Caswell said all of these initiatives have been carried out.

“We are continuing to look at all of our building’s infrastructure for possibilities,” she said.

Quite aside from the benefits of reduced common area power bills, Ms Caswell said the building occupants feel a real sense of pride in the new solar power system. There is also a feeling of satisfaction that they have reduced carbon emissions.

She said that the owners committee generally want to achieve the “best building” they can, and that the building manager and facilities manager for Hero have also been supportive.

Mr Doyle said the Hero owners had demonstrated that solar power could be installed on buildings of all shapes and sizes, including historic buildings.

“The owners have united and demonstrated that you can install solar on buildings of all shapes and sizes, including historic buildings,” Mr Doyle said.

Over the last year, the City of Melbourne has facilitated the installation of 415.12kW of solar on apartment buildings, single-family dwellings and commercial buildings across the municipality.

The council and its commercial solar program partner the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry also provide a free service to support businesses in assessing their solar opportunities and obtaining and comparing quotes to install a solar system on their premises.

“There are 58,000 dwellings in the municipality covered by strata schemes and more than 1.5 million square meters of commercial strata titled property. Residents and businesses within these properties can access 100 per cent finance for environmental upgrades through the Sustainable Melbourne Fund,” Mr Wood said.

Tricia Caswell’s advice to other strata owners – four steps to success

Tricia Caswell

Ms Caswell outlined four key steps in gaining agreement to retrofit solar power to an apartment building.

  1. Make sure there are one or two people who are really abreast of the issues and have real commitment to making solar happen. Someone needs to be driving the project even before it gets raised at a committee meeting – she herself started the groundwork a year before the first mention at a meeting.
  2. Make sure the committee is kept informed throughout with continual informative and transparent reporting.
  3. Seek out the best information on systems, providers, finance and legal issues. Ms Caswell says local council is most likely to put you on track to get the best advice possible.
  4. Take a holistic view, including the local (building) politics, local government politics, legal requirements in the owners corporation rules, technical issues and financial issues. Make sure all of these issues that need to be addressed are “all in the bag” when you report to the committee.

She said a project like solar is also more likely to succeed when a building has owners that are concerned about the whole building, not just their own individual concerns. It’s also important to follow a good consultation practice.

“Don’t leave things until the last minute,” she said.

Ultimately, she said that the market was starting to see the value of solar on residential property. Real estate agents she has spoken with have told her it is becoming one of the optional extras sellers can talk about.

There is still, she said, a perception out there though that getting solar onto multi-residential buildings is hard.

“People should give away the fear stuff and see what they can do,” she said.

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