As high electricity prices and energy policy wars continue to dominate Australian news headlines, a Melbourne retiree has offered a salutary reminder of just how much energy – and money – can be saved through the most basic of energy efficiency measures.
Angelo Indovino – a chemical engineer who spent his career working for energy giant Shell – has donated his time to help lead a initiative at his own apartment building in Melbourne’s Southbank, that has cut total power consumption by 50 per cent in just five years, and generated savings for the body corporate of around $140,000 a year.
But perhaps the most impressive element to this story is not what Indonvino and his owner corporation-led team have saved, but how they have saved it – and the implications this could have for thousands more apartment blocks in Melbourne and other major Australian cities.
As Indovino tells it, the energy efficiency project at Melbourne & City Towers – 35-storey twin towers built in 2004 and managed by Melbourne Inner City Management – kicked off in 2012/2013 with a power saving initiative targeting the buildings’ five-level car park.
This initiative, which was carried out before Inovino himself got involved, installed variable speed motors in the car park’s exhaust fans, reducing the power they used, as well as the noise they made.
As you can see in the chart below, this effort alone made a major impact.
“That was a big initiative, that delivered good results,” Indovino told One Step in an interview on Thursday.
“These were very noisy fans that used to work hard all day long. By adding the variable speed drives, there is now better control, the fans are hardly audible, and it has resulted in significant energy savings.”
The next step change – also illustrated in the graph – is a bit more detailed, in that it is the result of a number of initiatives – guided by the government-backed Smart Blocks program – implemented in rapid succession by the apartment block’s own team (pictured below).
But the initiatives, themselves, are all strikingly simple and low-cost; starting with the most basic and obvious step of replacing of all the building’s lights with LED globes.
“The (replacement of the lights) was an easy decision,” says Indovino, noting that it was also free of charge as part of the state government’s VEET scheme.
Next, Indovino and the team turned their attention to other ways to improve energy efficiency.
“We did audits of the building and found lots of lights on that should have been off. For example, the lights in the emergency stair well were on all the time. And they didn’t have to be.
“And the air-conditioning in the gym was also running much of the day, even though it is often empty,” he said. “So we put a timer on it – simple things like that.”
And in the building’s corridors, light sensors set to stay on for 5 minutes after being triggered have been changed down to 2 minutes, and will probably go down to 30 seconds, he says.
And there’s still more low-hangingg fruit to be plucked, Indovino says. Like the “great big” air-conditioners used to keep the temperature in the buildings’ corridors to 22°C all the time.
“Why?” asks Indovino. For this, the group aims to put in a simple temperature gap control mechanism, so that the air-con doesn’t come on, or the heater doesn’t come on, until the ambient temperature in the halls gets to a certain level.
“We’ve done 50 per cent, and can probably get it down to 60 per cent” reduction in energy consumption, he adds.
The building also has a pool, so there are plans to Investigate the operation of its lights, pumps, water heating, etc, looking for efficiency improvements.
Once all energy efficiency options have been explored and implemented, Indovino says the plan is then to look at the potential to install solar panels and battery storage at the apartment blocks.
And the work won’t stop there. “The next big thing is, we’ve done one big building, what are the rest of them doing?
“We’re creating some friends of energy efficiency, talking to other owners corps, forming a bit of a club,” he told One Step.
And they’re trying to motivate local councils to step up their role in promoting apartment building energy efficiency. To this end, Indovino is working with the City of Port Phillip, to hold an energy Aware Apartments information session at the St Kilda Town Hall next Thursday, October 26.
The program aims to support apartment buildings in the council area to reduce energy use, and thus reduce operating costs and environmental impact.
The information session will include practical advice from experts, case studies, and resources from Smart Blocks, and the opportunity to network and ask questions. For more information or to register to attend the session, go to www.enviroehub.com.au.
“You’ve got to make it attractive. I think this kind of thing – like VEET – should be free of charge,” says Indovino. “At the very least, the audit part (should be provided free). Then you can say, ‘Listen, you could do this this this and this very easily’. This is all low-hanging fruit.”