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15th December 2016
STUCCO Community Solar and Batteries
Newtown's Stucco apartment block, a converted glass factory, has now become one of the first buildings in Australia to install a shared solar and battery storage system. The solar system will provide 80 per cent of the residents' energy with the remainder drawn from the grid.

The Stucco committee now acts as its own energy retailer and issues electricity bills to the residents. Residents are charged 10 cents during off-peak times and up to 40 cents during peak use.

The cost of the project totalled $130,000 with the solar technology costing $97,000. The City of Sydney provided an environmental innovation grant of $80,000 and Gail Christopher from Gilbert & Tobin provided pro bono legal advice. The project was managed by former Stucco residents Louis Janse van Rensburg & Bjorn Sturmberg together with Stucco committee president Sarah King.

Sarah King said "it's quite empowering to have your own locally sourced power system, otherwise you're quite vulnerable to what electricity companies are going to charge you."

Project manager Bjorn Sturmberg announced Solaray for the job following a 6 month selection process, carried out in collaboration with the NSW government’s Office of Environment and Heritage. According to team mate Janse Van Rensburg the solar and battery system is expected to take about six to seven years to pay for itself, although the long-term gain and savings far outweighed the cost of the system.

STUCCO community solar and batteries schematic (left) and monitoring system (right)

City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore commented “We want Sydneysiders to be involved in shaping our city’s future. Offering grants like this allows us to work with enthusiastic members of our community to speed up cuts to carbon pollution”

Sustainability Programs Manager Tom Belsham expressed satisfaction with the project “We think this will provide a great demonstration site to spur additional action within that residential multi-unit dwelling sector” 

There are 1.6 million solar systems installed across the country, but with little penetration into apartment blocks.  Ms O'Rourke from community-based organisation Solar Citizens said some of the main barriers for tenanted blocks were energy regulations, delivering power to individual units, and getting all landlords on board.

According to Claire O'Rourke "We've had a lot of anecdotal reports from apartment owners who have tried to get this in place but have failed. The real opportunity is in cities where there are more apartments and renters. Housing affordability does hit hard in cities, so any way to manage the high cost of living for tenants should be looked into."

Darren Gladman, policy manager at Australia’s Clean Energy Council explained that the trick is “coming up with the contracts and the arrangements that work for everyone so that everyone is receiving a financial benefit.”
Stucco project team, Louis, Bjorn and Sarah with Gail Christopher, Jenny Leong and Tom Belsham

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich joined Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown and NSW Greens spokesperson at the launch on Monday last week. Mr Greenwich was very supportive "Awesome joining Jenny Leong to launch the Stucco Housing Co-op Solar and Storage project made possible thanks to a City of Sydney environmental innovation grant"

For further reading try ABC News, Renew Economy and One Step Off The Grid. Stucco have also published an explanatory video on Youtube, a project summary and a crowdfunding campaign for those who would like to show their support.  

Ross McIntyre
Contributor, Strata Energy News
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