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Adelaide apartment-dwellers adopt innovative solar power sharing system

December 2022. Originally published by Adelaide Sustainable Building Network

The benefits of harvesting energy from the sun have long been enjoyed by Adelaide residents living in Torrens-titled homes. However, the story has been different for the 1 in 10 Australians who live in apartment complexes.

Now, a trailblazing group of residents in a Hurtle Square apartment complex have one of the earliest residential installations of SolShare in the world here in the Adelaide CBD.

SolShare is a ground-breaking Australian innovation by Australian tech-company, Allume. It enables energy generated from a single solar system on a communal roof to share electricity to multiple, separately metered units within the same building. It integrates with standard PV solar systems, where solar panels on the roof collect energy from sunlight and convert it into electricity. Carbon Neutral Adelaide partner, Suntrix, is installing the system and says what makes the SolShare meter technology different is that it removes arbitrary allocations to units and avoids unused power being lost to the grid.

“With a standard solar system for say 10 apartments, we could install 20kW of panels but they would need to effectively be split into 10 individual systems, each with their own separate hardware. In this scenario each household could take up to 2kW at any point in time,” said Joe Perry, Operations Manager of Suntrix. “So, if my neighbour needed more than 2kW of power in the middle of the day when I was not at home, they would pay for extra for energy from the electricity supplier and my allocation would be sent to grid.”

“The SolShare system is different. It can detect where electricity is needed and redirect it across dwellings in real time. In this example, the technology would recognise my neighbour needed more electricity and would send my unused energy to them, at no additional cost to either of us,” Joe said.

Hurtle Square Joshua Panel Installation
Hurtle Joshua front view

Residents expect payback in four years, despite small roof area

Len Woodley, presiding officer of the strata corporation at 2 - 20 Hurtle Square, says the owners and residents have always been environmentally aware. They first started exploring the benefits of solar a decade ago, but there were no systems that would benefit residents equally. Instead, they opted for a system to power services in shared areas, such as lighting in the corridors. It was only more recently that the Corporation discovered the SolShare system and realised it could make solar power sharing viable for their apartment complex.

“We have been revisiting the technology regularly since we first started to explore the benefits of solar in 2009,” said Len Woodley. “We were told our roof-space was too small for each owner to have solar system. Even if we could divide the roof into 28 sections of sufficient size, not all would be equally productive. As for the option to cover the roof with community-owned panels, it was possible, but there was nothing to stop a super-user from taking all the power it they wanted to.”

“I’d been keeping my eye on the activities of Suntrix and in 2019, I approached them with our brief. At the time they were just partnering with Allume. They explained how the software worked and how it addressed equality of distribution across a group which is what we were looking for.”

The rules of the Hurtle Square body corporate are clear on works of this kind – everyone must agree. Everyone was keen on the idea from an environmental stance and the few residents who were less sure for financial reasons were willing to support the collective view to purchase the system. This is a large solar system, and the affordability was improved by a rebate from City of Adelaide, the first one to claim under the revised scheme for ‘shared solar’ in residential apartments.

It took some time to get through the technical integration requirements. For this innovation, new protocols had to be developed with SA Power Networks, to integrate the system with the network infrastructure. However, Hurtle Square residents are now seeing benefits to their electricity bills. While the roof is too small at 1240m2 to accommodate enough panels to fully cover costs, Suntrix analysis suggests the system will pay for itself within approximately 4 years.

Additionally, upgrading the existing meters to bidirectional smart meters allows each resident to see what they’ve used from the system and what electricity they’ve drawn from the grid.

The system is expected to reduce demand on the electricity grid by 93,075 kWh per year, equivalent to 47.47 tonnes of CO2 emissions or around 15 cars off the road.

Significant opportunities for strata situations

Overall, Joe Perry says the SolShare technology is ground-breaking because it opens up the possibility of solar power to significantly more people. He explains it best suits multi-tenanted buildings such as social housing, apartment blocks and shopping centres and it can reduce electricity bills for apartments by 25 - 40 per cent, depending on a few key site characteristics.

“We are already seeing a huge amount of interest in projects around the country, including social housing situations which might not have benefited previously,” said Joe Perry.

“Community power and micro-grids is a progressive space. I think it’s fantastic to have Australian-made tech and to have been able to work with everyone involved to make it happen. Our main focus now is to make strata and property managers aware of what’s available – there are a high number of suitable properties in the Adelaide CBD that can benefit from this and the incentives available from City of Adelaide Council reduces the costs even further.

“We’d like to thank the team at Hurtle Square who have been great. They have been trailblazers and kept their residents well informed during the process.”

The installation system at Hurtle Square is was commissioned by SA Power Network in early 2022, after resolving some connection issues.

Technical information: Hurtle Square solar installation

The system installed by Suntrix at Hurtle Square comprises:

  • SolShare 35 Units
  • SMA Sunny Tripower 25000TL Inverters
  • 62.16 kW system, 370w panels on 1240m2 of roof space
  • Network Protection Unit to meet SA Power Network requirements

SolShare technology has been installed in a commercial system at The Queen Elizabeth Specialist Centre in Woodville South in June 2020. In the first 70 days, it generated 7989 kWh of solar energy in the winter months. With an estimated life of at least 20 years, the SolShare system is expected to reduce carbon emissions for this customer by 1,320 tonnes over its lifetime.