Low-Cost Initiatives Cut Energy Use In Half at Australian Apartment Towers

Melbourne Australia apartment building energy savings
Melbourne & City Towers. Credit: Central Equity Limited

A 35-story Australian apartment building complex has turned “low-hanging fruit” into a real bounty for energy efficiency. The Melbourne & City Towers cut energy usage by 50% in just five years through simple, low-cost initiatives.

An energy savings push for the Melbourne & City Towers, built in 2004, started with the replacement of parking garage exhaust fans in 2013, the Australian online publication One Step Off the Grid reported today. Building management Melbourne Inner City Management and the Owners Corporation Committee worked together on the project, which swapped out four noisy old fans for efficient ones with variable-speed motors.

“By adding the variable speed drives, there is now better control, the fans are hardly audible, and it has resulted in significant energy savings,” Angelo Indovino, a longtime chemical engineer and resident at the complex told One Step. Indovino got involved after that project, volunteering his time to help lead energy efficiency retrofits.

With support from the government’s national Smart Blocks program to help building owners and managers improve energy efficiency, the Melbourne & City Towers team carried out several other retrofits. They included switching hundreds of lights to LED in the lobbies, corridors, elevators, and parking garages.

Audits of the building revealed that many lights were staying on when they should have been off. “For example, the lights in the emergency stairwell were on all the time. And they didn’t have to be,” One Step reported. In addition, AC ran all day in the gym — even when it was empty. The team installed a 30-minute timer on the gym’s air conditioner and changed the hallway lighting sensors to stay on for 2 minutes instead of 5 when triggered.

In light of Australia’s soaring electricity prices, particularly in neighboring South Australia, cutting energy usage in half makes a big difference. Savings at the Melbourne & City Towers were about $110,000 annually — $140,000 in Australian dollars, according to One Step.

“We’ve done 50%, and can probably get it down to 60%,” Indovino told the publication. Next, he’s looking at energy efficiency improvements for the building’s pool as well as bigger projects like adding solar panels and battery energy storage. Indovino is confident that all of the changes are ones that other big buildings could make. His Smart Blocks case study has a button that says, “You can do this project.”

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