Shared solar switched on at Melbourne apartment block

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More people living in rental accommodation will now have access to cheaper, renewable energy as part of a groundbreaking microgrid project launched in the Melbourne suburb of Preston. The 52-resident community housing apartment building has a shared solar and battery storage system that makes solar energy available to all residents.

The microgrid features 70kW of solar, 54kWh of battery storage, and Solshare energy distribution technology connected to all apartments. The system was installed by one of Victoria’s leading solar retailers, Gippsland Solar, which was fully acquired only days ago by major Australian insurer RACV, in a bid to bolster its home solar offering.

“The 52 tenants, who all have physical disabilities or other challenges, will now be able to use cheaper renewable energy from the one solar and battery system,” RACV CEO Andy McCarthy wrote on LinkedIn. “We are proud to deliver the first solar and battery microgrid of its kind in the world. Even better, we love seeing cheaper renewable energy becoming available to those who need bill relief the most.”

At the heart of the installation is the Solshare energy distribution technology designed by Melbourne-based start-up Allume Energy. Designed to work within the building’s existing metering infrastructure or behind the meter, the technology allows for the consumption and metering of rooftop solar among multiple building tenants.

With rooftop solar installed with no upfront cost, Allume charges the tenants for the solar electricity on a “pay for the power, and not the panels” model, through a power purchase agreement locked in at a lower rate than the retail electricity price.

“Our world-first SolShare allows a single solar and battery system to be shared amongst multiple customers in the same building,” said Allume Energy Chief Operating Officer Alex Marks. “We’re excited to see the SolShare reduce electricity bills for renters in community housing.”

The installation is part of the $2.3 million Community Energy Hubs project launched by Ovida, an Australian energy company that provides both solar energy solutions and private energy infrastructure. As part of its state-wide microgrid funding promise, the Victorian Labor Government allocated last year a total of $980,000 for the Ovida project, which will install shared solar PV and battery systems in three multi-tenanted buildings in Melbourne.

The installation launched on Thursday by Victorian Minister for Energy Lily D’Ambrosio is the first site of Ovida’s Community Energy Hubs project with more sites expected to be installed across Melbourne in 2020.

“Ovida installs, operates and maintains the solar panels, batteries and energy distribution technology free of charge. Residents and tenants have the opportunity to opt-in to the initiative and will continue to have choice over their electricity retailer,” said Ovida Executive General Manager Chris Judd. “This is an exciting milestone as it is the first time this microgrid technology has been used to allow one solar and battery installation on an apartment building to be shared with all apartments.”

Other partners on the project include Australian Energy Foundation, Housing Choices Australia, and RMIT University.