Vertical village energy consumption

By Dr Janette Corcoran

The Victorian Government has announced $797 million for energy improvements – how much of this might our energy-hungry vertical villages access?

Our vertical villages are considered “expensive energy guzzlers”.

In particular, our common areas are accused of comprising – or exceeding – 20 per cent of our building’s total administrative fees as they account for up to 60 per cent of our building’s total energy consumption.

Naturally then, there was great anticipation that the Victorian Government’s super-splurge of $797 million on energy efficiency would bring good news for apartment-dwellers. And on November 17, the Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio announced that this multi-million dollar energy efficiency stimulus package would deliver:

• $335 million to replace old wood, electric and gas-fired heaters with new energy- efficient systems in 250,000 homes;

• $112 million to upgrade the comfort and efficiency of 35,000 social homes;

• $14 million for appliance upgrades under the Victorian Energy Upgrades program; and

• New minimum energy efficiency standards for rentals homes to ensure that they are fit for habitation will be in place from 2022.

Anything for residential apartment buildings?

While apartment residents can potentially access funds for appliance upgrades, missing from this scheme is any focus upon redressing the specific challenges encountered by apartment buildings. This was a view echoed on a recent Energy Efficiency Council session where both guests, Nick Aberle from Environment Victoria and Kellie Caught from Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), agreed that apartment buildings did not really benefit from this scheme because “apartment buildings are difficult”. Kellie Caught proceeded to comment that the government was addressing social housing in the scheme, and that as some social housing is high-rise, residential buildings might also draw some benefit.

Such comments again underscore the lack of understanding about residential strata.

As was evident in the COVID-19 discussions with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), government decision-makers appear to consider similar high-rise public housing, high-rise student accommodation and high-rise residential strata. This perception might also go some to explaining why our vertical villages are typically not included in other residential assistance programs, such as the Victorian Government Solar Homes Package – because residents in high-rise public housing, student accommodation or residential strata “do not own their roof”. However, the difference is that in residential strata, we collectively own our roof.

There is, however, a light on the hill.

CSIRO, in conjunction with Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, is undertaking a project aimed at profiling the energy consumption of our common areas.

According to Michael Ambrose, Senior Experimental Scientist, Energy at CSIRO, it is vital to have a greater understanding of how, when and where high-rise residential apartment buildings consume energy – because without this detailed data, energy efficiency improvements typically take a “hit-and-miss” approach. For the initial stage of the project, a small number of residential buildings located in the City of Melbourne have been engaged. Over the coming year, energy consumption monitoring equipment will be installed to capture energy consumption data.

While the ultimate aim is to build the capacity of high-rise apartments to improve their energy consumption, the specific aim of this project is to test tools for profiling energy consumption in different high-rise residential buildings.

Over the coming year, this column will report upon this project’s progress – and in the meantime, thanks to CSIRO and the federal government for recognising the needs of our vertical villages!

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