Students trial shared solar and storage

Words: Emily Braham Photography: Luke Jovanovic

Sydney University students are to pioneer shared battery and solar 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.”

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