Solar for Strata

Jasper Webster and Dan Thompson, from Smarter Communities , specialise in offering solar and EV charger solutions their strata buildings. We speak with them about their first installation in an apartment building in Curlewis Street, Bondi Beach.

Apartment building showing solar panels and Jasper and Dan from Smarter Communities

We find knowledge is a key barrier to installing solar. Many people living in apartments don’t realise you can have a rooftop solar system that shares renewable energy with each apartment. Additionally, solar power in apartments is often more expensive than solar for single dwellings due to costs relating to the installation at a height, plus other expenses such as switchboard upgrades. Therefore the financial barrier for apartments to pay for the system upfront often  requires a special levy from owners. We developed our delivery model to overcome some of these barriers.

The Smarter Communities Sustainability Department offers solar finance to buildings that do not have the funding to own a solar system outright. We can deliver a solar system with the capability to share the electricity to common areas and each apartment with zero upfront cost to the strata committee. Costs are recovered over time through a subscription fee charged to the strata committee, which is then passed onto owners via the quarterly strata levy. Owners have the option of passing the cost onto their tenants through rental increases, which are offset by lower energy bills.

Even as strata managers for this building, it was still a two-year process, from proposing the idea to the strata committee to the final installation. We built collaborative relationships through the strata committee, owners and tenants and it took multiple site visits and a solar champion within the building to push the project through.

Our team financed the upfront cost to install a 19.5 kW Allume Solshare system, which enabled the sharing of renewable electricity equally between all 12 apartments and the common area. We initially project-managed the installation, but now our involvement is minimal. We monitor the system to ensure it is working to full capacity and invoice the building monthly for the generated solar power.

The key benefit is that the strata committee didn’t have to pay upfront for the infrastructure, and all tenants (renters and owner occupiers) are getting a 20% reduction in their electricity bills. Having a shared solar system on the building should also increase the resale price of an apartment. A study by Domain real estate found that apartments that are energy efficient and have a good thermal performance (well insulated/shaded), have energy efficient appliances, and rooftop solar panels can sell for up to 12.5% more than a typical apartment.

Another benefit is that we own, operate, and regularly monitor the system, so if it stops working for any reason, we can identify and fix the issue immediately at no cost to the Owners Corporation.

The total project cost was $40,000, which included the switchboard upgrade, the Allume Solshare technology, 19.5kW of solar panels and the scaffolding. In addition, new smart meters were installed in all apartments. We estimate that for in future the cost of solar will be approximately $3000/apartment on average.

The cost to provide this subscription-based service is approximately $1.25 – 1.50 per apartment per day. This fee is billed to the strata committee monthly and is recovered quarterly through the strata levies.

Owners can pass the subscription cost onto the beneficiaries (the renters) through an increase in weekly rent, although not all choose to do this. Otherwise, the owners can claim this as a tax deduction as part of negative gearing.

After 20 years, the ownership of the system is passed to the strata committee. A depreciation schedule is provided, after which the committee can break the contract at any time and purchase the system outright at the depreciated value.

We have learned a lot from this process, have worked hard to streamline the delivery of shared solar for apartments and are motivated to replicate this in other buildings.