The Pow-wow on Power Factor Correction

The highest recorded demand for electricity from your network within a 15 minute period is measured in kVA or kilo volt amperes.

These high levels of demand can incur penalties in your power bills, typically for high rise apartment buildings.

The solution can be to install a “Power Factor Correction” unit in your switch room which manages your Peak kVA demand for you.

One building we worked with installed one at a cost of $25k. Some other buildings have been able to get away with solutions as cost effective as $6k.

The main problem is “real estate” in your switch room. Can you physically fit one of these units mounted on the wall.

With all the NBN providers adding comms boxes to the switch room, you might have to prioritise that remaining space.

The skinny on pool blankets

Physical pool blankets do reduce evaporation from a pool, reducing the energy used to keep the pool heated. They also have the added advantage of reducing the leaves which end up in the pool.

However, the installation of the pool blankets do not typically give a fast payback time compared with other energy saving projects.

There is a new technology which is a “liquid” pool blanket. This is a biodegradable substance which can be injected into the pool via the pool filter which creates a “film” on the top of the pool, increasing the surface tension.

This reduces evaporation from the pool and heat loss. Stay tuned for the payback time on this innovation.

Dimming the fire escape

Don’t worry it will be as bright as ever when you need to exit the building.

Good news is that in 2014, Australian fire and safety regulations have now permitted fire escapes to be equipped with “motion-detected dimmable LED lighting.”

Where you used to burn fluorescent lights full pelt 24 x 7, 365 days a year you now have the option to upgrade the tube holders (battens) and install motion-detected dimmable LED lights.

When no-one is in the fire escape, all these LED tubes dim down to 1/4 power. As soon as someone opens a door into the fire escape they bloom into full glory.

Keep in mind that fire escapes are usually fitted with battery-backed up battens. This means you will be replacing your battens when you upgrade your fire escape to LED. Also, you will still probably do a lot of twin tubes in the fire escape to make sure it flares up to full light when the time comes.

At Freesia Gardens, the fire escape gave us another opportunity to dump 36 old fluorescents and upgrade them all with dimmable LED. The lighting plan and counting of the lights in the fire escape is also easier than doing the carpark.

Only tricky bit is getting a long ladder into the fire escape, definitely a two person job. Also, as you are replacing the battens you might as well take before and after photos of all those upgraded lights and light fittings.

As long as you are installing government approved tubes, you should be able to get some energy saving certificates for your efforts.

What’s the AC-DC on Solar?

Solar energy is a “renewable” energy resource. Solar energy used to be subsidised in Australia up until June 30th, 2014. Each year, the cost of solar panels is going down and the efficiency of solar panels is going up which means it is always becoming more viable.

At Freesia Gardens we asked two reputable solar energy companies to quote on a 15kW solar system for our roof. We have 6 air conditioning units on the roof and a couple of skylights but for the most part it is flat concrete space with no summer or winter sun shadow.

Well, solar feasibility is not always as simple as it sounds. If you want to reduce the cost of the solar installation you have to be able to get the panels onto the roof without using a cherry picker. You also want to reduce the length of cable where the solar energy is Direct Current (DC) to the transformer where it is converted into Alternating Current (AC) which you can use in your building. This is leading some solutions to put the DC/AC converter on the roof, rather than in the basement switch room.

You always need a way to get a spare panel onto the roof, without calling a cherry picker. What if a freak hailstorm comes through and cracks a panel?

This makes it difficult for some installations and one company wouldn’t provide a quote for us on OH&S grounds as we wanted to take the panels up the internal fire escape and hoist them onto the roof.

The payback without government subsidies is now more like 14 years on a 15kw system with no batteries for storing power, but the ability to pump excess energy back into the grid.

The problem is that the rate you get for pumping back into the grid is less than a 1/10th of the cost of taking it out of the grid.

This means we need further innovation in solar to start making it feasible for mid-rise strata buildings. Maybe a shared solar utility across 6 neighbouring blocks?

Strata committees, deliberations and the “Go, no Go” decision

The executive committee for an owners corporation (body corporate) is like most other committees. As advanced as we are, with all the technology at our disposal it is difficult to get people with different priorities on the same page when managing a strata building.

Most of the time, the people on these committees are volunteers. They are responsible for a community of people who live in close proximity to each other – the modern version of a local village. People have always been passionate about their “turf” or their “patch” and strata communities are no exception.

Owner-occupiers have different goals from owner-investors, yet both have to co-exist on the committee. Some committee members will have backgrounds in engineering, or accounting which gives them a level of expertise. Other members may feel strongly about environmental issues and creating communities which are carbon neutral.

How do you get to a majority of people in the committee to agree to proceed on any program of works?

Due to rising energy prices and falling electrical component prices, a program of energy saving projects can now be created which satisfies ALL parties. That’s right. No-one has to compromise.

In large corporations, getting a payback on a project within 3 years is usually a necessity to get the go ahead to proceed. There are a set of energy saving projects for strata buildings which can typically provide a payback in less than 2 years. That type of payback is literally unheard of in the corporate sector.

What does this mean?

Owner occupiers and owner investors should both want to initiate this program of work as ultimately it will reduce the strata levies that they pay.

The payback (or return on investment, sometimes called ROI) is so fast that after spending the money on the upgrades, the savings from those upgrades pays for itself in roughly two years. After this time, everyone wins financially.

This actually means that an accountant on the executive committee, who has no interest in environmental causes would support proceeding with the program of energy saving projects, just from a financial standpoint.

How do you know it is going to work?

Fortunately, others have been there before you. They have done the hard yards and have the results to prove it in lower energy bills every quarter.

All you have to do is run the same projects that they ran. Buy from the same suppliers that they bought from and replicate the results. Easy!

Delamping is like de-friending

I remember that Burger King (Hungry Jacks) once ran a promotion where you got a free whopper if you de-friended 10 friends off Facebook.

De-lamping is just like de-friending.

Maybe that property developer who built the block got over zealous and lit up the garden like a Christmas tree. Similarly, foyers and lobbies can also be lit up with enough light to film TV.

Get trigger happy and “ghost out” some of those garden lights and courtyard lights. Just walk downstairs now and unscrew the bulbs.

You will be on the way to greater energy efficiency.

What’s your favourite tariff, baby?

Energy tariffs from different energy companies come in all shapes and sizes.

Sometimes strata buildings are on a retail tariff. Other times they are on a business tariff.

It is sometimes worthwhile upgrading your electricity meter to be able to take advantage of a three-rate tariff. Peak, Shoulder and Off-peak.

Victorians are able to get a smart meter installed. This will eventually roll out to other states in Australia.

In each state there will be a “bill doctor.” Someone you can take your existing energy bill to and get an opinion as to whether that is the best tariff and energy provider on offer (if you have a choice of energy providers).

This is well worth the investment and should be done before you lock-in a 2 year energy contract.

Carpark LED lighting: the soft and the hard

At Freesia Gardens we have 2 levels of basement car parking, originally lit by fluorescent tubes 24 x 7.

We actually delayed replacing the fluorescent tubes in the carpark for 2 years, waiting for the LED replacement tubes to become more reliable. At the same time as becoming more reliable, the LED tubes were also becoming cheaper.

Here are some tips on running a project to replace your carpark fluorescent tubes with LED tubes.

1) You will probably count your existing tubes up to 6 times before you get an accurate count. There are always extra tubes hidden behind ventilation systems etc

2) You need to replace the “tube holder” also called a batten if you are replacing an emergency fluorescent tube with a battery pack, with an LED tube.

3) You now need to replace all the battens if you wish to claim “energy saving certificates.” In the past, you could claim an energy saving certificate without replacing the batten. This makes it interesting as to whether it is actually worth replacing the battens and claiming the credits. We didn’t replace the battens.

4) Check the LED tubes to be the correct ones when they arrive. We wanted clear tubes with soft light, not tubes that look like opaque traditional fluorescent tubes. We had to send one batch back to the manufacturer and delay our installation.

5) To “optimize” the energy saving in your carpark you want a combination of LED tubes and “motion-detected” dimmable LED tubes. You need sufficient light in the carpark that people feel safe when they park their cars and walk to the lift. The best configuration is to use the dimmable LED tubes behind car parking spaces. They light up for about a minute when someone parks their car and gets out. Then they drop down to 1/4 strength light until someone comes back to get into the car.

6) You don’t want to install motion-detected LED tubes where they will be triggered by cars driving in and out of the carpark. To sustain the life of the motion-detected switch, you don’t want the motion detector being set off more than 8-10 times per day. You will have to run a test with a few motion-detected tubes first to determine the range of the motion detection.

7) It is likely that your sparky will have to return up to 5 times to finish the LED replacement job in two floors of basement carpark. You will have to assign someone to let him into your secure carpark on each day that he comes.

8) Do your LED fire escape lighting project as a separate project from your basement carpark LED lighting project. This will allow you to measure the impact of each project on your energy bill separately.

9) Get your sparky to teach you how to install a replacement LED tube yourself. It’s not hard, just slightly different from a fluorescent.

10) Print a diagram of your configuration of tubes for each level of basement carpark, laminate it and put it on the wall on the switch room. This will assist your maintenance person to replace the right tubes with the right tubes in the future.

11) Put a notice on your noticeboard to get everyone to empty the carpark. It isn’t possible to rewire a batten for LED when it is directly over the bonnet of a new BMW. If you are doing a different carpark level on different days, put the days which each person needs to move their car.

12) Don’t forget those additional fluorescent tubes in the switch room, store room or pump room. However, if you are maximising your savings you won’t replace these at all. Because they aren’t turned on 24×7, you can just leave them as old-school fluorescents.

13) Take photos of each fixture before and after, if you want to claim an energy saving certificate.

14) Your local council may take your old fluorescent tubes for recycling. You can’t put these in your normal garbage bin as they are bad for the environment.

15) Don’t buy the cheapest LED tubes on the market. Consider paying 3-4 times the cheapest price on offer to get a quality that you can rely on. Be really careful of the quality of the motion-detector switch. If this burns out in 3-6 months you won’t get return on investment.

HVAC explained….we suck and we blow

Every industry has its three letter acronyms.

The energy sector has a 4 letter acronym which everyone will eventually come across – HVAC. It stands for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning.

Ventilation is a simpler process than air conditioning. It just involves getting fresh air from outside at outside air temperature and circulating it through different parts of the building. Typically, the foyer or lobby where you walk in and the lift bays at each level. There is only the most basic of filters on a ventilation system to stop leaves being pumped inside the building. Air conditioning involves changing the temperature of the air and passes the air through more filtering than a typical ventilation system.

Central heating is less common in Australia than in northern europe or the U.S. However, you will find some buildings with central heating systems.

New six star energy rated buildings don’t always use Ventilation and Air Conditioning. There is a new system of hot and cold water pipes through some of these buildings. By pumping hot or cold water through these pipes, you can regulate the temperature of the building.

Some of these buildings even “pump white noise” back into the building to make it sound like the building has air conditioning, just because that is what people are used to.