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Case Study: Install solar for common areas

Miriam Robinson, Nicholson Gardens, Melbourne

Miriam Robinson

"We installed a 4 kilowatt solar system to power the lights in our common areas and a pool pump."

You can do this project!

We live in a three-storey, 92-apartment block. I joined the owners corporation two years ago to improve energy efficiency in the building. We engaged an energy consultant to undertake an audit to see what could be done.

I have a good knowledge of renewable technologies and my ambitious long-term goal is to get the site completely carbon neutral and off the grid.

For the first stage of our project what we came up with was a small solar PV and energy efficiency project – installing 4 kilowatts of solar to power lighting in common areas and a pool pump, as well as LED lighting retrofit for common area spaces.

The total project cost was $25,000.

What was the result?

The solar system and LED lighting was installed by February 2014. The energy bill for our common area is usually $12,000 a year and we expect it will reduce down to about $2,000 a year.

How did you fund the project?

As a large apartment building we have relatively substantial reserves in our sinking fund. So we didn’t need to raise a special levy to fund the project, but we did need to put a detailed proposal to the executive committee outlining what would be installed and how much we would save on energy bills. The committee then voted to undertake the project.

What advice would you pass on?

Start slowly, demonstrate initial success and then keep developing more projects with the savings and the momentum from the first one!

Have you got plans for future projects?

Absolutely. We’re monitoring energy bills and smart meter data so we can demonstrate the economic benefits of the project to everyone in the building. We intend to install more solar panels and add battery storage to the mix in the future. We are exploring a few different options for providing our own energy so that the site can eventually become fully self-sufficient.

We are also encouraging apartment owners to undertake energy efficiency improvements in their apartments (e.g. lighting, insulation and draft proofing, efficient space heating) and will be painting the exterior of the building with insulating paint in the next scheduled round of building maintenance.