Vertical dwelling energy hacks

Energy bill shock – it’s something that we all dread regardless of our type of dwelling. 

And while there is much advice for householders endeavouring to reduce their energy costs, specific options for vertical dwellers are not so plentiful.  

Looking at some apartment advice sites, their “energy hacks” include switching to LED, sealing gaps around windows and doors, adjusting your thermostat and even air-drying your clothes (just not on your balcony!).

While sound advice, these suggestions really do not take advantage of vertical living’s specific circumstances – or opportunities.    So rather than trying to emulate ground-bound residents, the question really is, what could we as vertical dwellers do?

Consider this.

High-rise apartments have huge amounts of external, often glass-clad vertical space.

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with these areas, loving the light that penetrates and hating the summer heat amplified by these sun-drenched exteriors. What if these glass panels could be treated so as to not only improve our thermal comfort but also capture this solar energy for our use?

This type of building-integrated technology is the holy grail of sustainability and photovoltaic (PV) glass is promising apartment residents a way of working with the sun to simultaneously generate power while reducing the demand for electricity to heat, cool and light.

Comprising a transparent solar panel, standard mono-crystalline PV cells are integrated into double glazing, which lets natural light in while capturing solar energy at the point of utilisation. The potential uses for this technology are astounding, with hundreds of thousands of sun-baked apartment windows and glass doors being ready candidates.

However (isn’t there always?) the current limitation of PV glass is its high cost which, when combined with the additional challenges of retrofitting, mean that this is not yet an accessible solution for most vertical dwellers.

There is, of course, another better-known application of PV technology, which is solar panels. While these adorn the rooftops of many Australian houses, unfortunately comparatively few high-rise apartment buildings have adopted PV systems and those which have typically direct their benefits towards reducing the costs of heating, cooling and lighting common property. This leaves the individual vertical dweller largely excluded from the many benefits of renewable energy.

Enter Allume, a new Australian social enterprise that is taking a different approach to cracking this solar-nut.  Its stated mission is to make solar energy accessible to apartment residents or, as they phrase it, “those who don’t own their own roofs so can’t get access to solar”.

Allume comprises a group of recent graduates of University of Melbourne, who are currently working under MAP (Melbourne Accelerator Program), and as part of this program, they will soon travel to Silicon Valley to meet potential investors.

According to CEO, Cameron Knox, (who balances his bachelor of science in mechanical systems with his diploma in French), Allume removes the entry barrier to solar through a pay-for-power (not panels) service, commonly referred to as a solar power purchase agreement (SPPA).

This means that vertical dwellers (both renters and owner occupiers) pay a reduced rate for the power they use from the panels (estimated between 20-40m per cent less than retail electricity), with revenue from the SPPA being paid to the financier of the system.

Allume sees their key advantage as providing a solution that bypasses the regulatory overhead of an embedded network while offering each resident an opt-in/opt-out arrangement. This also means there is no long-term contractual commitments. And to complete its offer, Allume helps with negotiations with owner’s corporations, as access to roofs remains a key requirement.

It is these types of “hacks” from our universities that can pragmatically shape our emerging vertical villages, making our high-rise residences both more visually appealing as well as resource and cost efficient.

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