‘Critical and urgent’: Lord Mayor says Melbourne high-rise buildings should add solar panels

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More residents of Melbourne’s high-rise apartment buildings could soon have solar panels added to their roofs in a push to help decarbonise the inner city.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp while visiting the city’s tallest collection of solar panels called for building owners to add the renewable energy infrastructure on the Eq building on Wednesday.

The building has an accompanying embedded network and a solar array – a common wiring system with individual metering for each apartment that allows the owners corporation to buy power in bulk and on-sell it to the residents.

While the system can’t provide for the entire building’s power needs, Cr Capp says it is an important and critical step in the right direction, as Melbourne races to do its bit to cut emissions to deal with the climate change.

“Ultimately there will never be a perfect solution in this environment,” she said.”What we need is for people to start whacking these systems onto their buildings now.”

Solar panels are rare on commercial towers and apartment, because an embedded network is needed for the  owners and occupants to benefit, so owners corporations can at times be hesitant to pay for their installation.

Cr Capp said she’d been investigating different solutions to help reduce emissions in the inner city and the barriers to achieving them Since the council declared a climate emergency in July.

“we know that not only is it good for the environment, At the end of the day it’s lower energy usage and better amenity,” she said.

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“[It’s also] better outcomes for all of the owners and tenants, so what is it that’s stopping people from not just engaging in but actually working out how they can retrofit these sorts of systems to their buildings?”

The Eq building’s solar array is the tallest in the city.
The system was touted as a potential solution for decreasing coal-fired energy demands in energy-intensive high-rise structures by its installers, Winconnect.

It’s not necessary  to add solar to an apartment building to have an embedded network installed, but those without are limited in their options about the size of the solar array and future upgrades.

Retrofitting an embedded network could be prohibitive because regulators required 100 per cent of owners in an apartment building to agree to the upgrade, which Winconnect chief operating officer Phil Baxter said was next to impossible.

Winconnect now sells power to the residents after they have installed the solar and embedded network in the Eq tower.

Cr Capp highlighted the opportunity in commercial buildings, which account for 60 per cent of the city’s emissions, hoping they may be interested in retrofitting solar.

She said it was important that the City of Melbourne acted.

“We’re [concerned] about the impact climate change has on people,” Cr Capp said. “Yes, it impacts productivity of workers but it’s also the health of people more specifically those who are disadvantaged,. That might be the homeless or the elderly.

“So we see those ripple effects right down to the human scale and see it as so urgent and so vital that we declared it an emergency.”

The array atop Eq tower has a 28-kilowatt capacity and 83 panels. It generates most of the common area’s needs, but the shortfall has to be made up with grid power.

As better technology like more efficient storage batteries and panels become available, the embedded network will allow the building to be improved.

The Eq building will be easy to update Mr Baxter said.

“We’re future-proofing the building,” he further added. “Battery storage and car charging is coming up and we don’t know what else could be around the corner.”