Apartment Block Solar PV systems and energy efficiency opportunities

Efficient Initiatives was invited to speak, together with Miriam Robinson, with Beyond Zero Emissions in their weekly technical radio show on 3CR about our energy efficiency and solar PV implementation on a 92 apartment block in North Fitzroy.

We described highlights of the energy efficiency and PV projects for the common areas at the North Fitzroy apartment block, as well as talking about the way forward to implement a shared solar PV system across apartments, using technology from our friends at Allume Energy.

Solar School Systems Inspections and Maintenance

There are lots of solar PV systems installed across Australia now – more than 1.5 million installations, with total capacity of more than 4.5GW (Aug 2015).  But how many of these are producing what they should be?  How many have hot spots in their cabling? How many have water damaged isolators?  How many have cables nearly chewed through by possums?

If you don’t know whether your school’s solar PV system is safe, if you don’t know whether it’s producing what it should be … now is the time to investigate.  A good inspection will involve:

  • A licensed electrician
  • A thermographic inspection – to look for hot spots in the cabling and connections
  • An on roof inspection – safely!
  • A review of your production vs what the system should have produced

In the first instance, contact your school’s system’s installer to arrange an inspection – or a specialist solar PV inspector and maintainer such as Efficient Initiatives.  Our Solar School Services team know solar in schools and will have your system inspected, cleaned, repaired if necessary in no time – and will help you with educational outcomes at the same time – so that you can maximise the benefits of your system not worry about things going wrong.

Energy Efficiency and Generation at Home – EI talks

Efficient Initiatives has considerable experience in home energy efficiency and generation projects and from time to time we give public talks about how to reduce your home energy use and improve thermal comfort.

A recent presentation, at Sophia Mundi Steiner School at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, was subtitled “What can your family do to reduce impacts on the planet, reduce your costs and improve your quality of life”.

This talk included:

  • Why reduce energy consumption at home
  • Process that we follow and recommend
  • Specifics around things like:
    • Insulation and glazing
    • Heat pumps
    • Electricity vs gas
    • Solar generation and storage
    • How to time consumption to match your solar PV (photo voltaic) production – to minimise your need for grid power or battery storage

We were delighted at the recent presentation to speak alongside representatives of Ceres – about electronic waste management, and BZE – about the urgent need for climate action.

See Energy Efficiency at Home for two helpful sheets on the process for home energy efficiency (questions to ask) and detail about some of the products and actions we recommend.



Client Change and Client Comfort – a Perfect Storm for Aged Care?

Efficient Initiatives was invited to speak at a recent Aged Care conference in Adelaide, Australia, regarding the impact of climate change on aged care facilities, residents and staff – and what should be done about this.

Our presentation – to approximately 120 representatives of LASA – was very well received and has resulted in immediate follow up work with aged care facilities.

Highlights of the presentation included:

  • Increasing extreme weather events combined with increasing resident and family expectations – for example expectations of air conditioning – as well as energy cost rises, are leading to strain on residents, staff and budgets
  • There are a number of technological part solutions to this problem – which may look simple on the surface but which can be pretty confusing to managers more used to dealing with complexity of aged care clients than with insulation and solar PV.
  • A strategic approach to energy efficiency and generation
  • A case study on a large Victorian facility
  • The “perfect storm” can be more of an opportunity than a problem.

IEA study shows the multiple benefits of Energy Efficiency

A report recently published by the IEA (International Energy Agency) and described and linked here explains why and how to capture the multiple benefits from energy efficiency projects: not just energy cost reduction.   The report has also been well covered by Giles Parkinson at Renew Economy.

The report suggests that energy efficiency or “Negawatts” is already the most significant “fuel” – that the reduction in fuel usage in 2010 due to prior energy efficiency investments was bigger than any single fuel source in IEA member countries.

The report emphasises what we’re doing at Efficient Initiatives: reducing energy consumption while improving business outcomes.

  • Reducing operating costs, enabling investment in other areas
  • Making indoor environments healthier – warmer in winter and cooler in summer
  • Boosting productivity
  • Refreshing ageing infrastructure

The multiple benefits are shown nicely in the image below from the IEA.

IEA multiple benefits from energy efficiency


The report shows that for industries, when the values of the improved productivity and operational benefits are added to the investment return calculations, payback periods dropped from 4.2 years – already good- to 1.9 years.

Getting the right solar photovoltaic (PV) system for your facility

For many facilities – aged care establishments, schools, housing developments, offices, and homes – a solar PV system is a great opportunity to help reduce the cost of electricity from the grid. But there are plenty of solar PV system salespeople out there who will happily sell you a system which really does not match your needs well at all … ends up costing your far more than you expect and does not pay itself back within a reasonable time. There are even PV salespeople who will effectively lie to you about what a system will produce. See the “rules of thumb” for system output below.

So how do you ensure that you get the right sized system, at a reasonable price, and that the system you buy will pay itself within a reasonable number of years?

  • You have the system designed in conjunction with an energy efficiency review of your facility – so that the most cost effective means of reducing energy consumption are chosen – one of which may be PV panels.
  • You have the system designed to match the daytime consumption of your facility – so that export to the grid is minimised or prevented entirely.
  • You have the system designed so that it’s ready to be upgraded once the cost of energy storage reduces to financially attractive levels.

That’s where Efficient Initiatives comes in. We know PV systems. We know energy efficient lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning. We know building thermal performance. We know where to get the best rates for power and gas. We work with you to get the entire package of energy efficiency and generation measures right – now and into the future.

What are some of the characteristics of the “right design” of a solar PV system?

  • Avoid shading – even a little bit of shading during the best sun hours of the day, particularly 10am-2pm, will have a significant impact.
  • Select PV panels and inverters from suppliers who have a good chance of still being around when you need to call on that warranty.
  • Match the system output over the year with the expected consumption at your facility … after energy efficiency measures have been put into place
  • Face your solar panels north, but also potentially east and west … in the right combination to match your consumption profile and your roof profile.
  • Ensure that cables are sized correctly. Watch out for voltage drop or, in the case of micro inverters, voltage rise.
  • Checking that your roof is structurally capable of supporting the PV system under expected wind loads. Designing the connection system to prevent leaks.
  • Set up an ongoing monitoring program – so that when something does go wrong, you don’t lose half a year’s production before somebody notices.

PV system output – how much energy will my system produce?

In the PV industry, most people are honourable and honest. But there are a number of salespeople who will outright lie to you about what your system will produce. The following rules of thumb can be used – or else jump on to the PV Watts calculator to estimate your system production yourself. If you do use the PV Watts calculator, it asks for a “derate factor”. This should be left at the recommended value in general, or at most increased to around 0.8 or 0.82.

Bottom line? A PV system will not produce significantly more than these figures. It will produce less if it’s not well sited or if there’s any shading.

Rules of thumb for PV system generation in Australia. Apologies for being Victoria-centric but it’s where most of our customers are based:

Output per kW capacity
Location Panel orientation Average Annual output Average daily output
Melbourne and southern Victoria Facing north at 25-35˚ to the horizontal 1300 kWh 3.6kWh
Melbourne and southern Victoria Flat on the roof (no! don’t do this! Your panels will get dirty and stay dirty) 1150kWh (assuming you clean them several times per year) 3.2kWh
Melbourne and southern Victoria Facing east or west at 25-35˚ to the horizontal 1050kWh 2.9kWh
Mildura, Canberra, Adelaide Facing north at 20-30˚ to the horizontal 1500kWh 4.2-4.3kWh
Hobart-Tasmania Facing north at 30-35˚ to the horizontal 1280 kWh 3.5kWh
Sydney Facing north at 20-30˚ to the horizontal 1400kWh 3.9kWh
Brisbane Facing north at 20-30˚ to the horizontal 1500kWh 4.2kWh
Perth Facing north at 20-30˚ to the horizontal 1580kWh 4.4kWh


With the above table, multiply your system’s capacity in kW by the output per kW capacity to get your total kWh production. You can then multiply that by the rate at which you buy power to get an estimate of what you might save – assuming you use all of this electricity within your facility and don’t export any to the grid.

For example: a new, clean, unshaded 30kW system in Melbourne orientated to the north should produce on average 39,000kWh per year.

One point from the table above is the question of facing east, west or north. An approximately north (within say 20˚ of north) orientation will maximise energy production across the year. But this may not be the best outcome for you: it might be better to face some panels to the east if you have a morning peak of consumption, and to face some panels to the west if you have an afternoon peak of consumption. The reduction in output – of around 20% by facing east or west compared with north – may be worth while to maximise the “self consumption” from your system.

The bottom line

Does this sound a little confusing? While PV systems are inherently straightforward, there are lots of things which can be designed and installed well, or designed and installed poorly. Efficient Initiatives will partner with you to ensure you get the right system, at the right cost to match your energy needs.

Choosing your Organisation’s Strategic Energy Architecture

The energy supply and demand (usage) decisions made by organisations are critical business decisions.  Organisations are exposed to the increasing cost of energy supply, in an environment where the government policy landscape is changing, international trade opportunities for the nation are resulting in sharp increases in domestic charges (e.g. for gas), and technological innovation is opening up opportunities to rethink the way energy is used.

Your ‘energy architecture’ is a representation of how you source and use energy to run your business or household, now and in the future.  It sets out how you use energy – the appliances used for heating and cooling, hot water and ventilation; the choices you make around passive infrastructure such as insulation, draught-proofing and windows; the behaviours of you and your staff in operating your facilities.  It sets out how you source energy – your suppliers and the contracts you have in place; the rates you are paying.  It enables you to decide whether the time is right to adopt emerging self-generation technologies (e.g. Solar with Storage) (can you go ‘off the grid’?); whether the changing policy environment is actually an opportunity that may enable you to change your business.

Your energy architecture is a framework for understanding and changing energy usage in your organisation. It is not simply about energy supply rates – improving building comfort and lowering consumption is much more important – but all elements of the architecture need to be assessed and understood.

Efficient Initiatives’ Energy Efficiency Framework:

Lower Energy Consumption and Cost

Improved Resident, Student and Client Comfort

Enhanced Staff Productivity

An Integrated Process

Efficient Initiatives develops and uses an energy architecture as part of an integrated process, specifically customised for your situation, in assessing your current energy usage, behaviours, problems and potential solutions. The energy architecture is a means to an end, enabling the development of conceptual and detailed designs, project plans and financing that have been proven to offer potential saving in the order of 50% of energy costs while improving comfort and productivity.

Avoiding Paralysis

The apparent complexity of government energy and environment policy, climate change, technological innovation, the energy supply chain (generation, distribution, retail) and relentless cost increases can lead to a kind of decision-making paralysis, whereby it all seems too hard and organisations look only to the easy answers – e.g. change your energy retailer to get a better rate. This leads to the implementation of sub-optimal point solutions, or even non-solutions, as the rate you commit to today may not be the best rate tomorrow.

An Efficient Initiatives engagement ends decision-making paralysis by developing your strategic energy architecture and clarifying your energy future. Your energy future will almost certainly involve getting the best rates, but our experience proves that an integrated, architected solution that addresses all areas will lower costs by permanently lowering consumption. It comprises:

1. Assessment:

  • Energy bill review
  • Walkthrough of site to identify major energy consumers and potential problems
  • Scope works for Audit

2. Energy Audit:

  • Analyses your buildings, consumption patterns, occupancy behaviours and maintenance
  • Provides practical advice on reduction strategies, typically covering insulation, draught-proofing, heating and cooling, hot water, solar electricity, lighting, equipment, behaviour change or more sophisticated options
  • Reviews your energy bills and contracts and assesses options for change
  • Draws on our deep technical knowledge to identify a range of energy reduction solutions, their costs, benefits and payback periods and the impacts on your facility

3. Detailed Design:

  • Delivers specifications and implementation plan and project schedule
  • Seeks fixed prices to from contractors/ suppliers
  • Enables low cost finance for the selected implementation projects

4. Efficiency Implementation:

  • Uses a dedicated Project Manager as your single point of contact and accountability
  • Enables you to concentrate on your business while we manage the retrofit
  • Ensures that the efficiency concepts identified during the audit become reality – safely delivering the best outcomes for your business and residents

5. Ongoing Monitoring and Reporting:

  • Can integrate with your existing Maintenance or Building Management Systems
  • Delivers live data and useful information, via the web, to your staff and stakeholders
  • Allow you to keep control of your energy consumption and costs
  • Identifies future opportunities for improvement