Watch out! Fresh batteries coming through

The Tesla Powerwall battery is on its way to Australia. This compact and simple home battery is an innovative solution to energy storage and consumption for a sustainable home.

As Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, rightfully stated at the launch event in Los Angeles: “We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun. It just works, shows up everyday & produces ridiculous amount of power”. The Powerwall utilises the solar-generated electricity and charges up.

Instead of selling and buying back un-used solar energy to and from the grid, the Powerwall stores the surplus energy allowing for consumers to use it on & off peak, morning & night. You could even dare to go off the grid with only your own solar panels and the Powerwall.

Now imagine this: combining 2 billion power packs across the globe. This can provide the world with 200 000 GWh of renewable energy to power all transport, all electricity generation and heating.

It is possible.

In competition with the Tesla Powerwall battery is AGL Energy who is distributing the battery system from Taiwanese AU Optronics and Powerlegato. Slightly bulkier than the sleek design of the Powerwall, the Powerlegato does come with extra features such as an in built inverter and UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply).

Both the Powerwall and Powerlegato will revolutionise residential energy storage to reduce your electricity bills as well as maximising energy consumption.


Live in the City of Sydney? Register for a free virtual energy assessment of your strata building

If you own an apartment within the City of Sydney you can register your strata building to receive a FREE online energy assessment.

City of Sydney has provided an innovation grant for a limited number of buildings as part of “Sustainable Sydney 2030” so be quick.

According to Lord Mayor Clover Moore, “Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is the most cost effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With more and more residents living in apartments, we are committed to assisting Owners Corporations reduce energy consumption and costs.”

Click here to register your building.

Eligible suburbs are Alexandria, Annandale (part), Beaconsfield, Camperdown (part), Centennial Park (part), Chippendale, Darlinghurst, Darlington, Dawes Point, Elizabeth Bay, Erskineville, Eveleigh, Forest Lodge, Glebe, Haymarket, Millers Point, Moore Park, Newtown (part), Paddington (part), Potts Point, Pyrmont, Redfern, Rosebery (part), Rushcutters Bay, St Peters (part), Surry Hills, Sydney, The Rocks, Ultimo, Waterloo, Woolloomooloo and Zetland.

Embedded electrical networks….the upcoming power shift

Divide and conquer was a successful strategy in feudal Britain. It also plays out in the ‘game of energy’ in strata buildings.

It is in the interest of large energy companies to divide a building up into multiple energy contracts for the common area and each individual unit. That way no-one in the apartment complex has bargaining power against the multiple energy companies on offer.

The answer to this conundrum, being deployed in some new developments, is an ’embedded electrical network.’

Under an Electricity Industry Exemption order, the owners corporation can install an embedded network which starts with a new “master meter” being installed in front of the individual unit meters and strata common area meters to capture ALL electricity entering the building. The next step is for the Owners Corporation to purchase all the existing meters from the individual units.

At this point, the Owners Corporation can become the “network owner” and receive a single bill for the entire apartment block. This will require the Owners Corporation to be responsible for compliance and code requirements. With the proper sub-metering in place, the Owners Corporation can then bill all the units individually through their existing billing mechanism – the strata levy.

The bonus is that some individual units in the building may halve their electricity bill, when their small electricity bill is aggregated with the bills of other residents and the strata common areas.

This is currently being deployed into some new developments. It will soon become feasible, from an economic perspective, for the embedded electrical network to be retrofitted into existing strata buildings.

Charge me up, says the electric vehicle in the strata basement

A friend of mine bought a Tesla model S for his residential home in Chatswood. After paying for an upgrade to his switch box and running a new line from the switchbox to his detached garage at the back of the block and installing a Tesla home recharger, the additional cost on top of his new Tesla was ~$50,000.

What does this mean?

Strata buildings are actually better places to recharge electric vehicles than residential homes, whether it is your Nissan Leaf or shiny new Tesla. The main distribution board in the switch room will generally have the capacity to charge an electric vehicle, or two or three at a time.

In the U.S., the first apartment buildings to install an electric vehicle recharger put it in the visitor car parking space. This worked well for the first apartment owner who bought an electric vehicle. He or she was able to charge every night by parking in the visitor car parking space. Once you have electric vehicle recharging in an apartment building, it actually encourages other apartment owners to buy electric vehicles.

As soon as there was a second electric vehicle owner you had a problem. The two electric vehicle owners would race for the visitor car parking space to get there first for recharge. The first person to get on the recharger would have to share the ‘scarce’ resource with the second electric vehicle owner. You would then need communication happening between the two electric vehicle owners to share charging during the evening.

This led to a new solution for apartment buildings. Install electric vehicle rechargers in each car parking space for each electric vehicle owner with charge coming from the common area meter. The first recharge unit (equipped with 4G connectivity to the cloud) is about $1250 but if you buy four of them you might get them for $850 each.

Yes, the electricity bill is paid by the strata for the electric vehicle recharging upfront but then it is reimbursed to the strata by the individual electric vehicle owner based upon how much he or she uses.

Next problem to be solved is when you get more than 4 electric vehicles with their own charging station in the same apartment building. You need a smart recharging solution which will actually time share the recharging of all electric vehicles plugged in overnight, so that the main distribution board is not overloaded.

Now from an environmental perspective. Once you have electric vehicles being recharged in apartment buildings the grid-based energy consumption of the building goes up.

So now you know why we need to upgrade apartment buildings in this order:

* Energy efficiency to reduce the common area consumption and maximize the future solar array productivity

* Rooftop solar with a monitoring solution to make sure it is functioning in an optimal working state

* Batteries – Tesla, AGL or Panasonic, take your pick!

* Electric vehicle recharge with energy coming from the batteries charged up by solar during the day

This solution will make for clean electric vehicle recharging and bring down the overall carbon emissions of the building while the overall electricity consumption of the block is rising.

Solar deprivation = future economic loss

There used to be a time when a new development next to your apartment block just meant a loss of amenity. Less sunlight on your building which was less enjoyable, more dampness within your apartment and common areas and maybe some more moss buildup on courtyard tiles.

The advances in solar technology means this is no longer the case. Shadows passing over your building now represent future economic loss, rather than just a loss of amenity.

Imagine solar panels on the roof and even on the sides of your building. Imagine solar panels replacing glass doors, windows and balcony fences. This is something which has already been done in China.

Just a couple of hours of “solar deprivation” each day will add up over the lifespan of your building which could be up to 100 years. The efficiency of solar panels is increasing each year and the cost of solar panels is falling each year. The Tesla gigafactory is now coming online early, which means affordable batteries for common area solar installations sooner, rather than later.

One building in Sydney calculated the future economic loss of two proposed towers being erected next to them to be $11m over the next 80 years.

If you are based in Australia, smart grids and energy efficiency fall under s.51 of the Australian constitution. We may see a test case on this very issue in the next couple of years.

In the meantime, it is one more issue to raise with a municipal government seeking rezoning to increase the height of new developments.

Just one more thing…

The way that Home Owners Associations/strata committees make decisions is typically debate, debate and then agree on one thing to do (if at all!)

There might be 10 different options being thrown around for saving energy. However, each committee meeting typically only generates commitment to proceed with one energy saving project. The committee reconvenes after the project is done and the results are in and say “Wow, that really did work. Now let’s try another energy saving project.”

There are now 9 options left on the table for the next project and after debate, the committee agrees on just one thing to proceed with. The results come in, it worked and then they get more confident and do another.

The energy saving projects continue in serial. The process takes 2.5 years instead of 3 months.

The tragedy of the committee process is that it drives to a single action, where if the committee had the insights available on the full range of projects that made sense for them, they could proceed with multiple projects in parallel.

The benefit of doing more energy saving projects sooner, is that you get your savings kicking in sooner. This ultimately improves your cash flow.

That’s why you need a roadmap for energy saving….better go get yourself one right now!

Getting your block’s energy saving program on the fast track

Any owner of a property within a strata scheme gets the annual report for the block (usually in hard copy) which will detail the annual electricity spend. Any owner can take this information and become the “energy reduction champion” for the block.

There are now two different paths which an energy reduction champion can take to get an energy reduction program moving in their block.

1) The Slow Way

* Visit 4 different websites and wander through all the material on offer

* Attend an evening meeting with experts to get some guidance on what to do and how to do it

* Make phone calls to a dozen different companies

* Escort half a dozen representatives from these different companies into your building at pre-arranged times

* Request a dozen quotes for products and services

* Request another 1/2 dozen quotes from those same tradespeople to get alternative quotes

* Arrange and attend at least three Executive Committee meetings of the body corporate (Owners Corporation)

* Create at least 4 different spreadsheets trying to calculate different payback times for different projects

* Send over 20 group emails to an Executive Committee of the body corporate (Owners Corporation)

* Contact Executive Committees in 4 other apartment buildings to see what did and didn’t work for them

* Get all members of the Executive Committee on the same page as to which projects should be included in an energy saving program

* Get all members of the Executive Committee on the same page as to what order the projects in an energy saving program should be run

* Do over 100 “back of the envelope” calculations to justify why the block should or should not proceed with energy saving projects


2) The Fast Way

* Spend 10 minutes on a website which has an energy saving calculator and roadmap generator for strata buildings

* Forward the automatically generated report on email to all members of the Executive Committee to stimulate discussion on commencing an energy saving program

Rainwater tanks – the up and the down

We have a storm water catchment system in our building with the pipes funnelling through our underground carpark.

Wouldn’t it be great to add a rainwater tank in the basement carpark and then use this to water our gardens?

Yes, it would be nice from a water efficiency perspective but have you considered the additional energy costs of pumping the water?

At Freesia gardens, we did the sums and it was a project which wasn’t worth proceeding with.

Water is still “cheap” compared with the rising energy costs which have doubled in the last 7 years.

The Juice on Boost

If you have common hot water for your apartment block it can be powered a number of different ways.

Cogeneration systems are rated the most efficient central hot water systems to install. After this gas-boosted solar, heat pump systems, electric-boosted solar and then gas.

It is a major infrastructure project to change your common hot water system type after the property developer has installed it.

At Freesia Gardens, we investigated changing our system from gas with 3 storage tanks to solar + gas.

Unfortunately, the new piping to get the water from the ground floor up to the roof, 7 storeys above to run it through a new solar system on the roof was not feasible. This also would have added additional water pumping costs to our energy bill.

Instead, we are going to invest in a new roof to put over out outdoor boilers to extend their life. With each of the 3 boilers costing $11k to replace it is an important piece of infrastructure which we need to protect.

The problem we face is rising gas prices in the state of NSW.

Looking good in the gym

We want you to look your best in the gym. That’s why commercial gyms are full of mirrors and floodlit lighting.

If anyone has started using the 24hr fitness gyms, you will notice that all the lights and equipment turn off until someone with swipe access enters the gym. Then everything comes on and the gym fires into action.

If you are fortunate enough to have a gym in your apartment block, a simple sign can be placed on the exit door asking the residents to turn off the lights when they leave.

Don’t worry, the next person who enters will turn the lights on as very few people train in the dark.