We recently attended the City of Sydney launch of Smart Blocks, a program designed to help Strata buildings reduce energy consumption. Check out the details

Smart Blocks creating impetus for energy upgrades

13th June 2013

By Cameron Jewell

13 June 2013 — City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore officially launched the Smart Blocks program to a packed audience in central Sydney on Wednesday night.

Smart Blocks is a national program aimed at helping owners and managers of apartment buildings improve energy efficiency by helping to overcome barriers to upgrading. Already over 70 buildings across the country have signed up.

The financial case for energy efficiency upgrades in apartments is strong. However, these upgrades often aren’t occurring. What Smart Blocks does, through an interactive online toolkit, is try to make the process of upgrading as straightforward as possible. It’s about empowerment and capacity building – taking the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency and putting it straight in the mouths of those living in apartments.

“Australia is known as a suburban country but this is changing,” City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore told the audience during her launch speech. “Apartments now account for 35 to 40 per cent of all new homes.”

Ms Moore said over the past five years 150,000 households had made the switch to apartments. She said strata living was the fastest growing sector in NSW and that within 20 years half the state would be living under a strata scheme.

“It means we have to build smarter, more sustainable offices and apartments, and retrofit existing building stock which will be with us for another generation, at least,” she said.

Smart Blocks tackles energy used in common areas of apartment buildings. Audits by the group found that almost half of energy consumption was due to these common areas, which is a reason why apartment dwellers are responsible for 25 per cent more emissions than house dwellers.

The program’s key feature is an interactive online toolkit where people can discover energy efficiency improvements that can be made to common property in their buildings, including lighting, water systems, pools and amenities, heating and cooling, and ventilation. It then guides them step-by-step on what needs to be done to get a particular project approved.

Capacity building is a key theme for the Smart Blocks site, which includes practical advice on everything from preparing a motion for an annual general meeting to getting quotes and calculating payback times. This allows a watertight financial case to be mounted through the correct channels in a convincing way.

Smart Blocks Program Manager Brenden Carriker told The Fifth Estate that much effort had gone into researching barriers needed to be overcome to empower apartment dwellers and managers.

He said people generally understood the value of energy efficiency upgrades, but the problem was they didn’t necessarily know how to implement opportunities.

He noted four barriers to getting upgrades done. The key one being tackled by Smart Blocks was knowledge – knowing where to find information on upgrades and, most importantly, knowledge of how to implement change within the strata context. He said apartment owners needed to know who to engage with and when.

Other barriers included the physical building stock, access to financial products and governance issues.

Allan Hoy, building manager of Hyde Park Towers, presented a case study on savings he’d made in his building.

He mounted a strong financial case for energy efficiency, saying the net total project cost for LED upgrades in Hyde Park Towers was $23,713, and the payback was only 19 months.

The reduction in power bills has been dramatic.

“If we had not undertaken the initiatives we have, we’ve estimated our power bill would be around $15,400 a month, or $184,000 a year.”

After the upgrades, they determined a budget of $117,000 a year for electricity, and with less than a month of the financial year to go, they are well under budget.

“It certainly is worth your while,” Mr Hoy said.

“The important thing to take from this meeting is that all apartment buildings can fine-tune energy in their common areas, whether it’s through using energy differently, through retrofitting or upgrading systems, or by replacing them with more energy-efficient products,” Ms Moore said.

The program is particularly important to the City of Sydney’s sustainability plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent by 2030. Apartments make up a third of the City’s building stock, house three-quarters of the city’s residents and contribute 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. And with trigen now on the backburner, tackling these efficiencies has become even more important.

  • See our story on the City shelving its trigen plans here.

The Smart Blocks program has some very keen participants already. Even before the official launch, over 70 buildings had signed up to the program, and many more are expected to join in the coming months.

Smart Blocks has been developed in partnership between Strata Community Australia, City of Sydney, City of Melbourne, Owners Corporation Network of Australia and Green Strata.

Workshops are being held around the country from this month.