Stucco has set out to deliver Australia's first community-controlled solar installation for apartment buildings. For far too long, renters have been left out of the surge in residential renewable energy. We are here to change that.
Click on the image above to watch our video!
A little bit of context
Stucco is a community. We are low-income students who live in a self-managed social housing co-operative in Sydney. Like many Australians, we wanted to make our home more sustainable. Given that the opportunities for renewable energy have never been so abundant, we thought we could switch our 8-unit apartment block to solar. Simple right?
But there’s a problem
But how do you "share" solar electricity? As we did the math, we realised that the co-op couldn't afford to provide free solar power to the tenants.
What we had run into is a prime example of a 'split-incentive' problem.
Let me explain.
As a tenant, you can't install panels just for your apartment. Even if you had to move out before your panels have paid themselves off, you're not in a position to make the switch. Without the capital, approval and authority to set it up from the central building management (i.e. body corporate), you're locked out from solar.
For the landlord, or body corporate, of a building, the costly installation of solar panels don't pay off either. This is because all the benefits of the free solar electricity just flow back to the renters, not the landlord. To coordinate an entire building on to the same electricity source would be a logistical nightmare. So, they get left out too.
In this common situation, no matter how much an apartment building wants to make the switch to renewable energy, it is virtually impossible. The nature of renting means that tenants and landlords do not commit to a long-term cooperation with each other, so investing in solar makes zero sense. It's a lose-lose.
Here’s what we’re doing about it
Luckily, Stucco's unique housing structure means that the tenants are the landlords, so we were able to overcome the the split-incentive problem to come up with a win-win. Specifically we're doing two things:
- We have devised our own Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) between Stucco and it's members. With Stucco acting as the body corporate, the meters in each unit will operate in an 'embedded network' that will share the solar, storage and grid electricity across the building. This centralised system means that instead of paying an external energy provider, we will be buying energy from ourselves! For tenants, all they have to do is sign up to the PPA when they move in. As simple as that! For Stucco, the purchase of electricity from tenants creates a new income stream, thus further supporting our core service of affordable student housing!
- We are harnessing the storage capabilities of solar batteries, so we can conserve enough energy for our 40-person complex to reach an amazing 80% self-sufficiency. Instead of relying heavily on the grid, the day's sunshine is stored and ready to use at night time, when people use the majority of their electricity. This not only means a cheap, green source of energy for the low-income students living here, but by becoming less dependent on the major providers (i.e. AGL, Origin and Energy Australia), we are protected from the volatile price rises in the energy market that are expected to increase in the future.
Our Solar+Storage project unlocks the potential for solar electricity in urban areas, by putting the power back into the hands of the consumers.
Currently, electricity bills are dictated by large, coal-chugging companies that are just out to make a profit. Unfortunately, this impacts low-income people the hardest. By embracing a Power Purchasing Agreement and new storage technology, this project ensures a justice-based transition from fossil fuels. Eventually, we hope to see this model roll out in other social housing contexts, apartments, and even office buildings!
You can join us
Stucco is a non-for-profit organisation. We provide an affordable housing service. The rent our students pay goes directly to the upkeep of this building, not major infrastructure projects.
This is why we need your help.
While we are extremely grateful to have received a City of Sydney Environmental Performance Innovation Grant to kickstart this project, the costs of realising such a groundbreaking installation have outgrown what Stucco alone can afford. For instance fireproofing the area around the batteries is an unprecedented development in an Australian apartment block, and the associated fire engineering has taken many months and tens of thousands of dollars. Then there's new software development, novel meter configurations and more.
The transition to renewables is in reach, but it needs your support.
We have poured our hearts into this project because we want to make sustainability accessible to all. Over the past year and a half, the project managers Louis and Bjorn have tirelessly dedicated 25+ voluntary hours a week to pull the Solar + Storage project together. All while juggling their own uni and work commitments. We have overcome complex legal, regulatory and technical barriers with relentless persistence from Stucco residents, pro-bono lawyers, and expert advisors offering their time and wisdom.
Through our hard work, we have paved the way for the rest of Australia. One day, we hope that apartment buildings everywhere can operate like the Solar+Storage project, leaving tens of thousands of renters better off.
We're excited. We hope you are too. Because now, we are asking you to make your contribution to our project. Any donation big or small, will ensure that Stucco can stand strong after undertaking this project. As a housing service, as a community, and as a place for change.
If you're passionate about social change, join us.
Let's do this together.
Sarah King - Stucco resident (and president)
Louis Janse van Rensburg & Bjorn Sturmberg - Project Managers
Members of Stucco Co-operative past, present and future
-> To follow our journey and watch the panels go up check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/stuccosolarstorage/
-> To get in touch about the project please email: [email protected]