While the uptake of green technology in new apartments continues to lag well behind its adoption in freestanding homes, change is coming, according to industry experts.
Brent Clark, CEO and founder of Sydney-based Wattblock, which creates energy reports for strata buildings, said a growing number of developers are looking to meet buyer demand for earth-friendly, sustainable apartments, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.
Using solar panels as a barometer, it’s clear apartments have long trailed when it comes to environmental credibility, he said.
“Residential apartment buildings have about 0.6% penetration of solar panels, in comparison with residential houses, which are over 21% penetration, so [apartments] have been about seven to eight years behind residential houses in joining the renewable energy revolution,” Mr Clark said.
“[But] in the last two to three years, we have noticed more developers seeking to create differentiation for their apartment buildings through incorporating solar panels into the initial design.
“We have also seen some strata communities start to retrofit solar panels to their rooftops, often in response to sustainability programs run by local councils and not-for-profits,” he added.
A growing number of new apartment buildings are using “solar skin” panels, which are a third of the weight of normal glass solar panels and are installed vertically.
“Start-up companies, like Allume Energy from Melbourne, have devised solar-sharing systems for apartment buildings, making sharing a single solar system possible for the first time,” Mr Clark said.
But it’s not just solar power that developers are using. Other sustainability features being added to new builds include multiple Tesla Powerwalls for back-up power, motion-sensor LED lighting, green rooftops, communal vegetable gardens, worm farms and warm-water common hot water systems.
“Developers are also starting to include touchscreens inside apartments to provide things like energy consumption data for residents.
“And while commercial buildings have long had atriums, many developers are integrating internal apartment building courtyards with water features, often using rainwater captured in retention tanks under the building,” Mr Clark said.
A future that includes electric vehicles is also being planned for, as many people buying apartments plan to buy them in the future, he added.
“That has led to apartment developments such as Genesis and The Burcham (both in Sydney) offering solar-powered electric vehicle charging in their basement car parks. We also saw The Block start to feature things like electric vehicle charging points, which brought attention to the mainstream.”
The 10 ‘best’ sustainable apartment buildings in Australia
With research from the Lowy Institute showing more than 80% of Australians want their power to come from renewable resources, more and more buyers want green apartments, Mr Clark said.
So, about two years ago, when buyers’ agents and mortgage brokers started reaching out to Wattblock, wanting sustainable apartment options for buyers, the business starting putting together “best” lists.
The current top national 10 list features eco-friendly apartment buildings in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
1. The Arlington, Sydney, NSW
The Arlington includes a 2.5MW solar system, embedded network, geothermal air conditioning, electric vehicle charging and a grey water system.
2. One Central Park, Sydney, NSW
The leafy building has a tri-generation, embedded network, grey water systems, green wall and a car share scheme for tenants.
3. The Fern, Sydney, NSW
The apartment building uses passivhaus: a “rigorous, scientific method of building high-comfort, low-energy homes of the future.”
4. Botanic, Sydney, NSW
The building has solar-powered electric vehicle charging and an electric car share set-up for residents.
5. The Commons, Melbourne, VIC
The apartment complex has a focus on communal living.
6. Nightingale 1, Melbourne, VIC
The building is rated 8.2 stars, is 100% fossil fuel-free and includes a shared 18kW solar array.
7. Nightingale 2, Melbourne, VIC
The development is an all-electric, very low-energy building.
8. Nightingale, Brunswick East, VIC
The building has an all-renewable embedded energy network.
9. EQ Tower, Melbourne, VIC
The development features an electric vehicle car share scheme for tenants.
10. White Gum Valley, Perth, WA
The project uses blockchain energy trading.
Central Park sets the standard
Second on Wattblock’s list is One Central Park, a collaboration between Frasers Property Australia and Sekisui House Australia, which took out the top environmental technology award at the 2020 Urban Development Institute of Australia Wingate National Awards for Excellence.
The institute’s national president Simon Basheer said the internationally recognised redevelopment project on the previous Carlton United Breweries site in inner Sydney stood out for on-site energy generation and water reuse.
“This has ensured the creation of a closed loop system, providing an exceptional environmental standard for the entire precinct,” Mr Basheer said.
“The judges were particularly impressed with the unique one-million-litre recycled water treatment plant on site, recognised as the largest facility of its type in a residential building in the world.”
He said the facility recycles stormwater, grey and black water, as well as treating 100% of sewage from the site, meeting 100 per cent of its non-potable water needs.
The future of eco-friendly apartments
When looking to the future of green apartments, most expect to see a continuing focus on solar and electric vehicle infrastructure.
Mr Clark said more and more apartment buildings will include electric vehicle charging facilities – some even solar-powered.
“Batteries are going to start getting installed into apartment buildings to provide resilience during short power outages and we will also see improved water reticulation in premium developments,” he said.
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