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Author: Amanda Hoh
Source: ABC News
Date: 8th Dec 2016

After 18 months of “bureaucracy” and jumping through regulatory hoops, the students of Sydney’s Stucco apartments have finally achieved their goal of spearheading a “solar revolution”.

The social housing apartment block in Newtown has become one of the first multi-dwelling buildings in Australia to install a shared solar and battery storage system.

Last week 30 kilowatts of solar panels were placed on the roofs and 36 batteries set up in the building totalling 42.3kW storage capacity.

The solar system will now provide 80 per cent of the residents’ energy needs, with the remainder of electricity drawn from the grid.

Each student is expected to save up to $35 a month on their electricity bill.

“As poor uni students, that difference in a bill makes a huge difference,” Sarah King, Stucco committee president, resident and social work student, said.

“There’s also the great feeling of using green clean energy as opposed to dirty coal.

“As a cooperative, 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.

“State and federal governments don’t seem to be doing much for climate change … so we do feel like we’ve made a difference by demonstrating a project that hasn’t been done before.”

Stucco is a cooperative, not-for-profit housing complex for low-income students from Sydney University.

There are 40 residents in the eight units who each pay about $90 in weekly rent.

As a cooperative, the students self-manage the property, which is part-owned by the university and the Department of Housing.


How do students pay for solar?

A software system was put in place to manage and analyse the energy output from each unit, meaning the Stucco committee now acts as its own energy retailer and issues electricity bills to the residents.

For the energy consumption that is provided by solar, the students are charged a maximum of 10 cents during off-peak times and up to 40 cents during peak use.

They are currently in pricing talks with various commercial energy retailers for when the building draws from the grid.

The cost of the project totalled $130,000, with the solar technology costing $97,000.

Despite the high turnover of tenants, Louis Janse Van Rensburg, a former resident at Stucco, computer science student and one of two project managers, said there was unanimous support for the project when they first flagged the idea.

The students received an $80,000 grant from the City of Sydney.

The remainder of the cost was made up from 25 years’ worth of sinking funds and “grassroots community efforts” of voluntary contributions and pro-bono work.

One of the lawyers from the company that donated its time to the project used to live at Stucco.

“We’ve had to jump through a lot of bureaucratic and regulatory hoops,” Mr Janse Van Rensburg said.

“We’ve had to deal with fire risk and safety and that’s been our major concern … we had to have a lot of engineering reports and build a fire-rated safety enclosure [around the batteries].

“It’s been very difficult but we’ve established a process and a way to do this, so hopefully it’s easier for others to do this in the future.”

The solar and battery system is expected to take about six to seven years to pay for itself, although Mr Janse Van Rensburg said the long-term gain and savings far outweighed the cost of the system.

Most solar battery systems on the market are expected to take about 10 years to pay for themselves.

The students have started a crowdfunding campaign to help rebuild the administration and sinking funds.


Read more at ABC News.