A Comprehensive Guide to Getting Solar on Your Apartment
As of 2022, over 30% of homes across Australia are generating free and clean energy via rooftop solar, but what about if you live in an apartment complex?
It’s an unfortunate reality that putting solar on an apartment building is a little more complex than your average house. This is largely due to:
- Lack of accurate and accessible advice for apartment dwellers and owners.
- Difficulty managing diverse interests and needs of multiple residents.
- Technical difficulty of installing rooftop solar on apartment complexes.
But that does not mean it is not possible. Not only can solar power be accessible to apartment dwellers, but essential, due to exponentially rising energy costs and the ongoing climate crisis.
In this article we will address whether it is possible for apartment buildings to generate solar power. We will then focus on the challenges that must be overcome, the benefits for both tenants and landlords, and finally the different possibilities for getting solar installed on your apartment complex.
Is it possible to install solar on my apartment?
Most likely, yes! Solar power converts energy from the sun into electricity for your home – this is the same for apartments as it is for a detached house.
With more people living in apartment complexes than ever before, demand for solar on these buildings is going through the roof (pardon the pun). This demand has led to technology developments and innovative solutions, such as SolShare.
Created by Allume Energy, SolShare is a ground-breaking technology that allows all the residents in one apartment building to benefit from solar energy, by sharing one large rooftop solar installation.
Of course, there are certain challenges for achieving solar powered apartment complexes, but it is certainly possible to install solar on your building.
What are the challenges apartment blocks face when installing solar?
For a standard, single story, detached house an entire solar system can be installed before lunch time. Unfortunately, apartment buildings are not as simple as this. There are several challenges and obstacles that must be tackled when it comes to installing solar on these buildings.
1. Lack of accurate and accessible advice for apartment dwellers and owners.
Until recently, there had been very little up-to-date advice for residents. The thought of benefitting from solar power was overwhelming and the necessary steps were shrouded in mystery.
One of the major contributions to this can be selecting the right equipment, system size, and installer. There are hundreds of retailers to choose from, and it can be very difficult to even begin this process.
Fortunately, Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF) alongside sustainability consultancy Point Advisory have released ‘The Guide to Solar for Apartments’. It was made possible via the Metropolitan Community Power Hub (MCPH), a landmark community energy initiative led by YEF and funded by the Victorian Government through Sustainability Victoria.
This comprehensive guide was created to:
- Explain the key challenges of installing solar on apartment buildings.
- Assist residents to find suitable solar options for their home.
- Offer a step-by-step approach for installing solar on an apartment building.
- Identify the key stakeholders who need to be engaged during this process.
- Offer valuable advice and resources to make your solar journey as easy as possible
2. Difficulty managing diverse interests and needs of multiple residents.
For people that have their own house, the decision to get solar is entirely their own. An apartment block, however, will have multiple owners and tenants to consult who may all have different preferences and views on the matter. There is also the issue of landlords and building owners that may be hesitant to make an investment in solar if they can’t see any direct benefits.
Differing levels of approvals, finance, and responsibility also add to the confusion.
Luckily, the benefits of solar are irrefutable and the vast majority of people will see the light (apologies again) after a conversation around the matter.
The Solar Guide for Apartments provides valuable information on exactly how to start these conversations, and the relevant parties to be included.
3. Technical difficulties of installing solar on apartment complexes.
It’s not easy to physically install a solar system on top of an apartment complex. They are usually tall buildings which may require specialist equipment such as scissor lifts and cranes. What’s more, the roof could be made of concrete and/or covered in obstructions, such as HVAC units. This would require complex designs and additional equipment to complete the install.
Lastly, on completed buildings, if there aren’t existing electrical risers (vertical conduits to house solar cabling) installers may be forced to connect extra long cable runs or drill new holes in roof and floor space.
What are the benefits of installing solar on your apartment?
Installing solar panels on your apartment building offers numerous benefits to both tenants and landlords. The advantages of switching to solar energy are well documented, from lowering carbon footprints to increasing property value.
Benefits for tenants
1. Cheaper electricity bills
The most obvious benefit of solar power is the reduction in your electricity bills. Buildings with solar generated power can see a reduction of up to 60% on their annual bill.
Individual apartment units often use less power than entire households, meaning solar can potentially cover even more of the energy usage.
2. Reduction in emissions
Without solar, you are pulling electricity directly from the grid which is majority powered by coal (here in Victoria) which creates harmful greenhouse gases that contribute massively to climate change.
By installing solar and generating your own renewable electricity from the sun, you are actively lowering your carbon footprint and combatting the climate crisis.
3. Reduced reliance on the grid
Solar panels drastically reduce your reliance on the grid, especially if a battery system is installed to store excess solar energy.
Power outages are becoming a more common occurrence as the grid becomes less stable, but with solar you can continue to generate and use electricity even when the grid fails.
Benefits for landlords
1. Increase in property value
The main benefit of installing solar panels on your apartment complex as a landlord is the increase in value of your building.
The property instantly becomes more appealing to tenants and potential buyers, this increase in value will help it stand out in the rental market. There is even the option of raising rental prices to cover the costs of installation.
2. Increase in property attractiveness
Many people now consider the environmental impact and energy efficiency of buildings before choosing to live there. Having solar on your building, whether it is an individual or shared system, will improve the overall standing of your apartment.
It may even be the deciding factor for potential tenants that are more environmentally conscious.
What are the different solar solutions for apartment buildings?
By now you should be aware of the level of possibility, the challenges, and the benefits of installing solar on your apartment. So, let’s now explore the potential solutions and the different advantages they can offer.
Solar for individually metered apartments
Usually, every individual apartment unit will have their own electricity meter. This allows for individual units to have their own solar system or for one larger solar system to be shared across multiple units.
1. Individual solar systems for individual apartments
With this method, individual residents can likely power their entire home with renewable energy but must cover all the upfront costs themselves.
This is usually the best option for low-rise apartment buildings with spacious, separate roof spaces. Of course, the owner corporation will have to approve all plans before going ahead.
2. Shared solar system for individual apartments
Newer technologies are allowing for innovative solutions for solar system sharing. Thanks to equipment such as microinverters or Allume Energy’s SolShare technology, it is now possible for one large scale solar system to be shared across multiple apartment units. SolShare does this by fairly distributing energy to separate units as and when it is needed.
Solar sharing technology could be a fantastic solution to maximise solar production in buildings with limited roof space in relation to the number of units.
Solar for apartments on embedded networks
Some apartment buildings operate on a private electricity network (embedded network). This essentially means they have one sole grid connection meter with each unit possessing their own ‘submeter’. A network operator will buy energy in bulk and sell it to every apartment individually.
For solar to operate within this system, the embedded network would distribute solar energy to units and common areas. The owner purchases the system, reducing the energy bills of both the residents and the building – oh, and emissions are lowered!
This is only an option for apartment buildings that are already on an embedded network and have an operator open to supporting solar generated power.
Solar for the common areas
The final option for apartment buildings is to use rooftop solar to power all the apartment’s common areas/facilities, such as communal lighting, lifts, pool pumps, reception, etc. Upfront costs are covered by the owner corporation on behalf of owners, who can benefit from a reduction in strata levies (payments owners must all make to cover the building’s running costs).
This is a great option for larger apartment complexes that have little roof space when compared to its large number of residents. These buildings will also have large, energy intensive communal areas such as lift shafts, pools, and shared laundry.
While there is certainly a long way left to go for tackling solar on apartment buildings, a lot of progress has been made.
It is vital that everybody is helped through the energy transition, to ensure that all can benefit from cheap, clean, and renewable energy.
Technological advancements, such as solar sharing platforms, and unique resources like the ‘Guide to Solar for Apartments’ by the Yarra Energy Foundation will be contributory to this effort. They will help countless apartment dwellers across Victoria and Australia finally benefit from solar generated electricity and not be left behind.