Vicinity Centres has entered the rooftop solar fray, announcing what is believed to be the largest investment in rooftop solar in the retail space – a $28 million program to install 11.2 megawatts of solar PV across shopping centre assets in South Australia and Western Australia. And it’s likely the entire national portfolio will soon be covered in solar.

Stage one of the program is expected to pip Stockland’s $23.5 million, 12.3 megawatt solar program in terms of energy produced, with Vicinity’s five projects expected to generated 17.4 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, compared with Stockland’s 17.2GWh.

The program involves one of the country’s largest single rooftop solar installations at Elizabeth City Centre in South Australia, at 5.8MW; one of the country’s largest car park shade solar installations, at 5.6MW across four sites totalling more than 2400 covered bays; and one of the largest shopping centre battery installations, a 500kWh system at Castle Plaza in South Australia.

Vicinity Centres chief executive and managing director Grant Kelley said the program would help give the company and its retailers a competitive edge, and create a more climate resilient portfolio.

“The energy generated by the solar and battery systems will be used onsite, reducing reliance on the grid and helping give our retailers and our business a buffer from a volatile energy market,” Mr Kelley said.

“The environmental benefits of the installations are equivalent to removing more than 9500 cars from our roads and will create enough power to supply more than 3000 average homes for a year.

“We know we have an important role to play in shaping better communities and creating more connected and sustainable destinations. This project will create shared value for our customers, retailers, investors as well as the communities where we live and operate.”

Stage one of the project includes installations at South Australia’s Castle Plaza, Elizabeth City Centre and Kurralta Park, and Western Australia’s Ellenbrook Central and Currambine Central. Work is expected to start this month, with 110 jobs to be generated in SA, and another 40 in WA.

“We are proud to be creating jobs across South Australia and Western Australia and investing in these important states in our shopping centre portfolio,” Mr Kelley said.

Energy efficiency part of the program

Vicinity Centres executive general manager, shopping centres Justin Mills said the program would also work on improving operational performance, as well as testing innovations such as double-sided solar panels, cloud-tracking technology and electric vehicle charging.

“Vicinity will be the first shopping centre group with a fully integrated energy system, incorporating solar, which will help us reduce the impact of rising energy costs, while helping to deliver on our sustainability objectives,” Mr Mills said.

He told The Fifth Estate the integrated energy strategy included “capital expenditure projects to replace or upgrade equipment with more energy efficient technology, particularly in the areas of airconditioning, lighting and vertical transport”.

“We know we need to look at creating efficiencies in the way we do business, while also exploring new initiatives and technologies for generating and storing energy at our centres.”

There’s also plans to expand the program nationally, with the next phase expected to be completed by 2020.

“We expect stage two will include up to 18 sites, including centres currently being considered for development,” Mr Mills said.

“We expect stage three would see solar installed across the remainder of our portfolio.”