Stucco goes solar

In a landmark event, Newtowns student housing cooperative Stucco has completed the installation of a rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system expected to supply over 80% of its annual electricity demands.

The project was partly funded by an Environmental Performance Innovation Grant from the City of Sydney council, and completed in collaboration with energy technology company Enphase Energy and their installation partner, Solaray Energy.

The Stucco installation was overseen by Dr. Bjorn Sturmberg and Louis Janse van Rensburg, project managers and former Stucco residents, whom have indicated that the Enphase company was selected because it offered an integrated energy management solution, including solar generation and storage, along with energy management through its Enphase Enlighten app.

The installation includes 30 kilowatts of solar modules and 43.2 kilowatts of storage capacity. Stucco already operates on a low-energy usage system, functioning without air conditioning, dishwashers, dryers, and utilising three shared clothes washing machines. The average daily consumption of energy stands at around 80 kWh. The new energy system however will allow the residency to store power and use it when needed for lighting, computers and other domestic electrical equipment.

There is also the possibility of earning a small amount of surplus income for the co-op through the sale of solar energy back to the grid. The project managers have indicated that any surplus will be used to further subsidise rent and maintain the building.

Stucco is a multi-unit residential building that houses 40 permanent low-income residents. It also offers a free temporary emergency accommodation service.

The current large scale project stands at the forefront of innovation in renewable energy, as Stucco becomes one of the first multi-dwelling apartment buildings in the world to combine solar, storage and software-based energy management.

The project is expected to pave the renewable energy way for other multi-unit residences such as apartment blocks, strata complexes and community housing. This type of housing now makes up over 25% Australian residences, having risen from only 5% between December 1993 and December 2014.

Completion of the project comes at a time when Sydney-based research and technological advance in the solar energy sector is at its prime, as engineers at the University of New South Wales have been awarded the highest energy conversion efficiency rating in the world, for the creation of the largest perovskite solar cells to date.

Simultaneously, the Stucco project stands as a beacon of inspiration in Australias slow transition toward renewable energy, despite recent cuts of $500 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Words: Lucia Moon