Students trial shared solar and storage

Stucco residents celebrate their solar grant success on the steps of their apartment block – a former glass factory converted to shared affordable housing for Sydney University students over 20 years ago.

The Newtown student cooperative Stucco will be the first multi-residential project to trial shared solar and battery storage thanks to an $80,000 grant from the City of Sydney’s environmental innovation program.

Resident Sarah King said the students wanted to reduce their carbon emissions and to support low-income students through reduced bills. “We’re really excited about the outcome and proud to be the first site in Australia for this technology to be used,” she says. “We are also thrilled that young people are taking practical leadership on climate action and hope that this can be used as a model for similar setups in other parts of Australia.”

The students’ successful proposal was based on the idea of demonstrating or ‘de-risking’ battery technology for complete/near-to-complete self-sufficiency in large scale housing contexts. Led by physics PhD student Bjorn Stumberg and psychology student Louis Van Rensberg, the group has undertaken extensive research and consulted with numerous tech groups but has not settled on an exact system at this stage.

The site will also demonstrate new smart monitoring technology by Switchdin, in consultation with its founder Dr Andrew Mears, in an attempt to maximise the benefits of the system by relaying and acting on how and when consumption is sourced from the batteries, solar and the grid. A grid-connection will be maintained for emergency situations only.

It is hoped the system will be in place in the first quarter of 2016, with the students to report its performance throughout the year in terms of environmental benefit, impact on the community and scope for wider application in public and private multi-residential contexts. Sydney University lecturers also plan to use monitored data to develop case studies and course material.

Louis says they will open-source their power purchase agreement (PPA), drafted with pro bono support from law firm Gilbert & Tobin, to help overcome existing social and legal barriers to multi-residential solar and storage projects. “What we are demonstrating has not been done before due to the ‘split incentive’ barrier that makes it unclear who is responsible for and who benefits from strata solar projects,” he says.

He says the cooperative model, by which Stucco operates, has allowed the collaborative work by the students to help overcome the split incentive problem. “We see huge potential for enabling domestic sustainable transformation by integrating Solar PV, storage and a novel PPA in the multi-unit residential sector. We are so excited to be pioneering this development.”

Home lighting design

Lighting accounts for an average of 6 per cent of residential energy use and between 8 and 15 per cent of the overall household electricity budget. There are clearly efficiency and budgetary gains to be made when designing and specifying lighting solutions. Despite this, home lighting choices are often an afterthought, missing the opportunity to maximise efficiency and to access the potential health, functionality and aesthetic benefits of good lighting design.

Each area of a home has different lighting requirements and each light fitting need only provide enough directional light for its purpose. The earlier that lighting is addressed in the design and build process, the more likely sustainable and appropriate choices will be made before time, patience and budget run out.

Daylight and people

The most important source of light to consider is daylight, not only because it is a free resource, but also because it positively affects our health and happiness. Ideally a home has enough windows that supplementary lighting is rarely needed during daylight hours, as this causes the least disturbance to human circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the biological, behavioural and cognitive changes that occur in the body over a 24-hour period in response to environmental signals such as light and darkness. Natural light can assist in reducing fatigue and improve sleeping patterns, alertness and mood.

Appropriately sized and oriented windows will allow light gain according to the direction and timing of sunlight. For example, east-facing windows can be lovely in bedrooms and kitchens to help you start the day, and larger windows are needed in daytime use areas such as kitchens and living areas than in bedrooms andutility spaces. Though of course, window sizing and orientation for daylight should be considered within passive solar design requirements to balance against undesired heat gain or loss.

In a dimly-lit environment, the placement of new windows, skylights or solar tubes can have multiple benefits. When there is overshadowing from a neighbouring property, boundary wall or vegetation, a clerestory or highlight window can dramatically improve an interior space. Alternatively, quality skylights with seals, double glazing and a capacity for summer shading can be used. Solar tubes effectively access natural light with a small glazed surface area, preventing the heat gain and losses associated with skylights.

Other, often less expensive tactics include painting the shaft or light well a light colour to bounce light into the interior, or using light paint and reflective surfaces on south-side exterior fences or walls to bounce light back through south-facing windows. For apartments or other spaces with no roof or wall access to daylight, LED skylights that mimic the outdoor light levels could be a good option.

A Lume-inating design

Lighting was a carefully considered aspect of this new house design by Lume Architecture in Eltham, in outer leafy Melbourne (also pictured above). Architect Lynnsay Prunotto used a furniture plan, guided by the homeowners Sami and Sarita, to understand their lighting needs and to avoid overlighting.

Availability of natural light was prioritised so that artificial lighting is not needed in any room in the daytime, with no part of the house further than four metres away from a window. But Lynnsay also worked to balance glazing for natural light with energy efficiency aims. “I am very careful with window design as glass is such a poor insulator,” she says. “So there is just one large double-glazed window/door in the main living space to allow a positive connection with the outdoors.” In other rooms, the windows were kept smaller, but wherever possible had two in each room, facing different directions to allow for direct sunlight to enter for longer periods, as the sun moves across the sky. Attached shading to the outside prevents excessive solar gain in the summer.

Eltham Resident 1755.webTask lighting solutions included an LED spotlight, ceiling-mounted to cast directional light for reading music at the piano, and LED strip lighting over a sewing desk. Dimming switches were installed to turn task lighting to mood lighting, or to night lighting, when desirable, rather than having separate light fittings for each function, and to
reduce energy use.

Recessed downlights were used with discretion, and those that were used had sealed fittings, and allowed insulation around them to reduce heat transfer between internal spaces and the ceiling cavity.

Light fittings were selected for their functionality, but also to emphasise particular interior features. The stair light, for example, lights the steps below and the curve in the ceiling overhead. Fittings were also selected for fun, such as the bright yellow ceiling mount for Sami and Sarita’s young daughter, or for their sculptural quality, in the case of the pendant fittings over the dining table. Some fittings also include mobile app-controlled LED globes that can change colour.

Eltham Resident 1911ReNew 133 includes a comprehensive LED Buyers Guide to help you make the most energy efficient and cost effective lighting purchases.

Building a climate agreement

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 40 per cent of global energy, 25 per cent of global water and 40 per cent of global resources are used in buildings and buildings account for one third of greenhouse gas emissions. This means the building industry has huge potential to cut carbon emissions, and that low-carbon buildings represent one of the best ways to meet the climate change problem head on.

This year’s climate talks in Paris included the inaugural Buildings Day – a day to examine how buildings and the construction sector contribute to emissions, and what role they play in the fight against global warming. A new alliance was launched of 74 Green Building Councils, governments, companies, financial institutions, and organisations to help countries meet their carbon targets through green building.

Regular Sanctuary expert Dick Clarke is cautiously optimistic about the agreement but pointed out that many are not waiting for a government mandate to make the changes needed. “The built environment is already beginning to move beyond this, there are large chunks of corporate Australia that are beginning to move away from the business-as-usual pack,” he says.“There is a broad sweep of different client types understanding that they get immediate benefits from a small investment in sustainable technology. This means we don’t have to fight that hard to make these things happen.”

He gives solar storage as one example, which in the recent past, “You had to get people to make sure that their dishwashers and washing machines ran when he panels were at their peak, whereas the introduction of battery solar will change all of that. Now, even a battler, will look at financing a PV system with smart storage.”

Post Paris, countries wishing to meet their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions targets will rely more and more on sustainable architecture. In Australia, the Green Building Council has announced a new Net Zero certification for commercial buildings in 2016. A Net Zero building is a one with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site. Net Zero buildings do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, they do sometimes consume non-renewable energy and produce greenhouse gases, but at other times they reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases by the same or a greater amount. The Net Zero principle is seen as a way to reduce carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

Dick also sees promise in the growing popularity of well-designed, low-carbon homes. “The gradual uptake of better passive design means that the demand for heating and cooling energy has been reducing,” he says.

He also cites the recent introduction of a Minister for Cities as an emblem of hope for change in the way consider the built environment.

However, there is clearly scope for improvement as Dick says, who is disappointed that “ The Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association have yet to join the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC). The Paris talks might give them a bit of impetus to join ASBEC for a more coordinated approach – It is important that everyone sits round one table and talks together.”

“But there is every possibility the built environment may become the stand out leader as we move toward 2020 – everybody recognises that the targets we took to Paris were pretty woeful. We can get to zero net emissions. We can get very close, certainly by 2030.”