Geoff Gourley

4 February 2014 — NuGreen Solutions is ready to shake up the energy efficiency marketplace with a no capital solar energy offering for the commercial market that removes entirely the up-front capital cost of installing solar photovoltaic systems and delivers immediate energy bill savings.

NuGreen director Geoff Gourley says the scheme is a “disruptive” business model that opens up greener horizons for capital-stretched owners who want the efficiency result but are cautious on outlay, and can become part of a “straightforward pathway” that includes retrofitting and building tuning.

The scheme, which involves an arrangement with the company’s energy partners, means that clients get panels installed, but NuGreen covers their cost and recoups the outlay through an energy buying agreement with the customer.

This is similar to solar leasing schemes available in the residential space.

Gourley says the model gives customers the opportunity to save 20 per cent off their tariff immediately and fix a low rate for an extended period of time through a power purchase agreement, effectively generating their own green power without tying up capital in the technology to do so.

“Australia has been lagging in the uptake of solar, and we are hoping to see a greater uptake. [This model will also provide] greater access to small business owners and facilities owners such as warehouses through removing the barrier of cost,” Gourley says.

“The payback time for the technology becomes irrelevant, as customers pay a lower tariff immediately.”

It seems to be a good time to try to stimulate the commercial solar market, too. The recently released 1200 Buildings Melbourne Retrofit Survey 2013 figures showed there had been an increase in owners intending to install solar panels from three per cent in 2011 to 18 per cent in 2013. However, 33 per cent of owners were still “not at all willing” to consider installing panels.

It is also worth nothing that good intentions have not so far translated into action, with none of the 183 building owners surveyed currently having solar panels, and only two of the 1200 Buildings signatory buildings having solar PV arrays.

First things first: get the house in order

Before investing in energy generation technology, it makes sense to ensure a building is operating as efficiently as possible, and like solar energy itself, NuGreen’s approach starts with lighting, which Gourley describes as “the low-hanging ripe fruit” of retrofits.

A lighting retrofit can generally be carried out as a one-for-one replacement of old-school fluorescent, metal halides and halogen lighting with LED lighting.

This has more benefits than just energy efficiency, it also has a workplace health and safety benefit, as LEDs have a flatter light depreciation curve. That means workers aren’t subjected to gradually dimming lights (and the irritating flickering of ageing fluorescents), as the luxe levels required by workplace, health and safety legislation are met for longer.

By lasting for longer (around 50,000 hours as opposed to between 5000 and 20,000 for fluorescents), LEDs also takes away the maintenance issue of needing to regularly replace lightbulbs or tubes.

Bold young property icons get a greening

While many lighting efficiency upgrades involve older building stock, NuGreen has also been working with two recently completed high profile buildings.

The Q1 Resort and Spa in Surfers Paradise is one of the world’s tallest residential buildings, and was completed in 2005. NuGreen is providing the building with an LED upgrade as part of an energy efficiency makeover.

Queensland based NuGreen director Paul Schlaphoff says the project will deliver 85 per cent in savings on the current lighting bill and require zero maintenance over seven years due to NuGreen’s protection plan.

“We were able to offer all the stakeholders in the prestige building conformation of the quality in light output and overall improved ambience via a pilot, which enabled the residents and committee [to receive] afirst hand view of the technology prior to the management meeting,” Schlaphoff says.

Peppers Oracle Broadbeach, twin towers constructed by Grocon and completed in 2010, is also undertaking a NuGreen LED lighting upgrade.

The Peppers Oracle building upgrade will commence with the Triple Parking LED upgrade and will save the owners and body corporate 60 per cent off their current lighting bill, with zero maintenance spend over four years under the protection plan warranty. The upgrade was approved by the committee that represented the apartments, leased apartments, retail and commercial elements of the complex following the successful pilot, which was able to showcase the improved illumination and overall uniformity.

The next step –tuning and control systems

The next step, Gourley says, is to introduce a sensor and control system that is linked to lighting to ensure optimum efficiency, and then to monitor the CO2 reduction the upgrade delivers so it can be incorporated into corporate sustainability reporting.

Carrying out building tuning is also key to achieving greater efficiency. This can have an immediate payoff in terms of a building’s NABERS rating, which then gives a property asset higher value in the marketplace.

“Freshwater Place was at two NABERS [stars] and just through tuning and commissioning a [building management system], they increased their rating,” Gourley says.

“Any building can improve its NABERS rating by a couple of stars at least just by installing a BMS and undertaking a lighting upgrade. And greener buildings have higher value per square metre and higher asset value.”

So, once the energy use of the building has been reduced, monitoring and control systems can result in a fairly accurate picture of the building’s energy demand and use patterns.

Now is the time to strike while the iron is nicely hot and install a solar energy system to reduce draw on the grid and generate more power at a lower tariff, Gourley says.

An effective solar system is one that is sized correctly and optimised for the building’s demand loads, he points out.

And, with the no-capital offer, it needn’t cost much at all.

For information on what programs are available in Victoria for energy efficiency upgrades such as lighting and tuning, see The Fifth Estate’s story Retrofits: how Melbourne can encourage private interests to engage with public ones.