Energy Efficiency, Social Equity and Disability Accommodation Homes

An Australian-first pilot project, involving the installation of an integrated solar panel and battery system, has the potential to be a game changer for residents living in Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) developments across Australia.

The pilot brings together inhousing, a registered provider of specialist SDA accommodation, and Natural Solar, Australia’s largest solar battery installer, partnering to install solar and battery storage systems into an SDA property development in Salisbury, South Australia designed for use by eligible participants of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The NDIS, once fully rolled out, “will provide about 460,000 Australians aged under 65 who have permanent and significant disability with funding for supports and services. For many people, it will be the first time they receive the disability support they need.”

Often, Australians living with a disability are more adversely affected purely because of their disability and the challenges and barriers this can result in. However, like those living without a disability, they can and should also be able to experience the benefits of renewable energy.  Geoff Barber, COO of inhousing, an organization venturing into renewables for the first time with Natural Solar, believes this should the case.

As quoted by Pro Bono News, he announced, “Solar and batteries open up huge potential for SDA tenants under the NDIS, and we can see the opportunity ahead which is why we’ve elected to partner with Natural Solar on this development.”

He added, “This is our first foray into utilizing renewable energy technology on our housing developments, and we are excited to see the benefits of our tenants in the future, and extend battery and solar to a wider number of residents around the country.”

Speaking about the cost of energy for people with disability, he was quoted by saying, “Utility costs are a really big issues for people with disabilities as they have a limited income but rely on things like aircon, heating, and power in general to deal with their issues.”

Not only are the installed solar systems expected to enhance energy certainty for residents in case of power blackouts, but they will also reduce their annual energy bills. In doing so, energy savings will be made available to people who really need them.

Speaking shortly after the pilot project’s announcement, Chris Williams, CEO and Founder of Natural Solar, said, “The move to battery storage is about making an impact for those who truly need the support. Each [two-bedroom, one bathroom, single story] home will be eligible for sonnenFlat [a battery storage system], which will drastically cut the price of power for tenants. Currently the national annual average cost of power is $2,000 each year. Under this new electricity plan, residents will no longer have to pay for power, and will only outlay a monthly flat administration fee of $40, saving residents up to $1,520 per year.”

This $40 fee will provide residents with an annual allowance of 7,500kWh hours of electricity. Residents will have to pay more if they exceed their allowance but will also receive deductions for any power created by the rooftop solar panels. In return, sonnen will manage the battery network, and be able to transfer excess power from one battery to another when residents have spare capacity, thereby creating a mini virtual power plant network.

Speaking of the flexibility of the system’s design, Williams says, “A normal solar system is obviously going to produce solar power energy during the daytime when the sun is out, and if someone’s not at home that energy is going to be fed back into the grid and you can’t capture it. [With an integrated solar panel and battery system], any excess energy that is produced during the day is stored in that battery.”

The project was endorsed by Paul Fletcher, then Australia’s Minister for Families and Social Services, who notes, “With the strong and rising household penetration of solar panels – and with the take up of batteries expected to increase as prices drop – it is clear that household solar systems have an increasing role in helping Australian households to manage energy costs.”

Minister Fletcher also expressed his support for similar developments to occur in the future. “Australians with disability should have access to the sane energy choices in their homes – and that is why I am pleased to see the example of a specialist disability accommodation development using the latest home solar technology. I have no doubt we will see more of this in the future.”

He added, “If this delivers more choice and lower power prices for Australians with disability, it will bring significant benefits – benefits which can be expected to increase as the technology advances.”

In 2018, around 17,500 people were living in SDA across Australia while projections indicated a further 33,200 people might require such accommodation according to a SGS Economics & Planning report prepared for the Summer Foundation.

Combine this with high levels of sunlight, rapidly decreasing renewable energy technology costs, increasing competition among technology providers, and the ongoing rollout of NDIS and SDA developments, and there should be excellent potential for many more people with disabilities to benefit from similar projects across Australia.


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on October 11, 2019.


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