How solar, EV chargers and “greening” of a Cairns resort has slashed costs – and boosted profits

Image: Supplied

In 2014 the Cairns Gateway Resort body corporate was financially struggling with rising power costs, adding to a hefty annual insurance bill and units being rented out cheaper and cheaper as the effects of the GFC really started hitting home.

Something had to be done as the quality was fast descending and money for upkeep was hard to find. Quarterly fees were continually rising, so some decisions were made to look at onsite cost reductions.

An energy expert was called in to do an assessment and propose a schedule for the Body Corp committee to follow, as funds became available. The plan was to focus on the best results for the least expenditure, ASAP.

We started with the report and chose to begin with swapping out lights for low consumption ones. As each bulb or light or even floodlight needed replacement, a low consumption one was installed. This process took a few years but now nearly every bulb onsite is LED or similar.

We also looked at timers on ceiling fans in public areas. It was amusing to hear the staff were not sure where the switches were for the fans so some had likely run several years non stop!

We encouraged unit owners to swap out their rattling old box air conditioners with highly efficient split system air conditioners as they need to be replaced. Again, over the years, these have been swapped out and the power consumption and noise levels are dropping. Owners also benefit from longer warranty on these over the cheap box units.

Next, we looked at heat pumps – a 200-unit complex like Cairns Gateway Resort uses a lot of hot water! The existing systems were heat pumps, but over 20 years old and no longer efficient or reliable. When one fails, the others work harder to keep up.

The pipework also saw an upgrade with an insulating wrap to reduce heat losses. This was a huge project spanning over two years, but seriously reduced the power required.

After that project, we had every tap washer sorted for leaks, 200 wasteful shower heads replaced with efficient low-flow models to reduce hot water and water consumption generally.

We then had an opportunity to add a 100kW solar system in 2016. We chose a system from Hush Energy, as it offered the very best system with micro inverters. This system works exceptionally well and serves us reliably.

Looking for further savings we noted the resort had 200 TV screens all on standby power when turned off. Some research led us to buy 200 standby power savers that switch off the power at the wall when TV’s are turned off.

From all of these measures, combined, by December 2019 our power bill had reduced from $28,000 per month in 2015 to $18,000 per month!

Considering power prices had risen during that period it would seem the funds spent were coming back rather quickly in savings. And the unit owners also enjoyed a reduction in fees.

As more money was now available, more maintenance ad beautification occurred and, as owners had more income from rents, they spent on restoring and maintaining their units, which in turn attracted a better rental rate. Rents have increased by 50% over this time, on average.

So the “greening” of the complex led to lower expenses, better maintenance, a much better-looking property, and higher returns for owners.

In late 2019, we chose to invest in a further expansion of the solar system, as we had lots of roof space still available. Hush Energy and Super Quick Electric were the two companies quoting and a 130kW Super Quick system was chosen – a different type of system with large inverters separate from the panels.

Other upgrades to the power systems on the property allowed some feed-in, and energy monitoring equipment to claim Renewable Energy Certificates over the next 10 years are expected to deliver a return on investment much sooner. We also expect the additional PV system to reduce our energy bill, greatly.

The current committee and owners are very supportive and highly motivated to continue energy savings and generally improve the lifestyle enjoyed onsite.

To attract more tourism to the resort it was decided to add two car parks with electric vehicle chargers. These chargers are supplied during the day from the two massive solar systems, meaning any cars charging there are doing so on solar power. After hours, at this stage, it’s grid supply.

Image: Supplied

DC Electrical in Brisbane did an awesome job supplying the charging equipment and even had the bollard it’s mounted on made from recycled plastics.

The charging is supplied free of cost to attract EV owners to stay with us, rather than other resorts. The charging option was shared on an app called Plug Share and within a few hours, a booking was made specifically stating that they appreciated the car charging offered.

Future projects include the possible use of energy storage in all those HWS to offset the huge demand charges we get and when batteries are more affordable these, too, will be part of the future energy mix.

Our hope is to have zero-net import of grid power and the most eco-resort in Australia. It’s important to note the good work, support and enthusiasm of the onsite management team led by Maryanne and Ian Wedgewood.

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