London Yes to Wind Turbines; Lend Lease Yes to Solar

London Yes to Wind Turbines; Lend Lease Yes to Solar

Australian property developers have ruled out building towers with wind turbines, after the world’s first skyscraper with three rooftop turbines was unveiled in south London. The Strata, dubbed the Razor because of its sharp edges and slick silver tower, like a futuristic building plucked out of Blade Runner. Meanwhile,  the push by construction and property giant Lend Lease into the solar energy business is seen by Giles Parkinson in Climate Spectator as one of the most significant interventions to date in Australia’s nascent renewable energy market.

Glenda Kwek in Sydney Morning Herald (30 July 2010):

Australian property developers have ruled out building towers with wind turbines, after the world’s first skyscraper with three rooftop turbines was unveiled in south London.

The Strata, dubbed the Razor because of its sharp edges and slick silver tower, looms over Elephant and Castle in Southwark like a futuristic building plucked out of Blade Runner and dropped into 1970s Britain.

It’s a striking symbol of what eco-construction can achieve, but property developers here are looking to other technologies to boost the green credentials of their buildings.

The 148-metre apartment block, nicknamed The Lipstick by London mayor Boris Johnson, boosts eye-catching turbines with nine-metre-long blades, which are set to generate up to 8 per cent of its energy requirements.

Its developers, Brookfield, have also forgone air-conditioning for a natural ventilation system.

Strata is London’s tallest residential building, and part of the Southwark area’s billion-dollar redevelopment towards becoming a sustainable growth region, where less carbon is released than used.

Other building projects around the world are also embracing eco-construction, including the visually stunning Rotating Tower, a wind-powered building that constantly changes its shape, and Gwanggyo, a green self-sufficient city just south of Seoul in South Korea.

In Australia, developers are excited about similar projects that would cut the energy consumption of commercial and residential buildings, although wind turbines do not play a part.

“We looked very seriously at wind turbines,” says Brian Churchill, property portfolio manager for Local Government Superannuation (LGS) Scheme, one of Australia’s big property owners.

“The publicity far outweighs the actuality in that it is not nearly as successful, simply because you don’t get wind blowing all the time.

“When we did the feasibility survey in Sydney, we found that you wouldn’t be producing that sort of level of power … so the outcome didn’t justify the investment.”

Churchill’s organisation is among four other property owners that have pledged to go green by 2012.

With support from the federal government’s Green Building Fund, the LGS plans to retro-fit a 1986 office building at Berry Street in North Sydney with a tri-generation plant, using mainly Australian technology, by December 2011.

Its generators will feature the country’s first installation of engines developed by Australian company Bennett Clayton, which use natural gas but emit “virtually no greenhouse gas emissions”, Churchill says.

“They burn gas, but they are so efficient that the exhaust from that … is absolutely clean.

“It’ll not only be energy efficient but it’ll also be greenhouse gas efficient. Our emissions will be 70 per cent below what you need to achieve for a five-star rating from NABERS [the National Australian Built Environment Rating System].”

The project will use energy efficient lights from EnviroLight, another Australian company, which Churchill says are 30 per cent more efficient than the currently popular environmentally friendly T5 lighting.

The air-conditioning system will use the Shaw method, another Australian technology set to cut 25 to 30 per cent off your energy bill.

Importantly for Churchill, the Berry Street building shows “older buildings can perform in light of these new technologies coming through”, and at an affordable cost.

He says while the Property Council of Australia estimates capital costs of between $600 to $900 per square metre to get an older building up to a five-star rating, LGS has managed to achieve the same goals with only $100 to $200 per square metre.

It would take less than five years to recoup the costs through energy savings, he says.

“We have changed the paradigm that you’re probably better off pulling down an old one and putting up a new one, to saying you’ve already got a sunk carbon cost in the existing building, if you can retro-fit it efficiently, and using these technologies can get you there … pretty economically.”

Matthew Nolan of Charter Hall Group’s property services department, says that, while the Razor does serve as a symbol of what microgeneration can do, a focus on macro-generation, such as making power plants more efficient, has more lasting benefits.

For him, the development of Barangaroo at East Darling Harbour is where a whole host of green building initiatives can be tested.

“If you look at Barangaroo, that’s live scale. It’s a great opportunity to make a statement on how things are developed.

“It’s trying to make sure you are going to get something that provides more than just symbology, that you are actually going to get a decent benefit out of the money you are investing.”


Editor’s note: Australian property developers should know that the very innovative ANZ Building in Melbourne’s Docklands has roof mounted wind turbines to further supplement the electricity being generated onsite for use within the building. Solar is also incorporated in the building, as well as a tri-generation plant. Electricity is generated onsite using natural gas instead of alternatives such as brown coal which is the dominant fuel source in Victoria and which has a significantly higher carbon intensity. The heat from the process feeds the air conditioning absorption chillers in the summer and the boilers for heating in the winter.

Giles Parkinson in Climate Spectator (6 August 2010):

The push by construction and property giant Lend Lease into the solar energy business could be one of the most significant interventions to date in Australia’s nascent renewable energy market.

The move is based on a couple of simple premises. The most important of these is the belief that, within a few years, solar photovoltaic technology will match, and then displace, wind energy as the most cost-effective and efficient renewable energy source in Australia.

If that comes to pass, it could turn most forecasts for the build-out of renewable technology in this country on their head, and Lend Lease will be in a position to become a dominant player in what will rapidly become a multi-billion dollar a year solar PV market.

Lend Lease has been quietly working on its plans for the past 12 months, ever since it signed a deal with the world’s biggest solar PV maker, the US-based First Solar, to install 10MW of its panels on the roof-tops of its commercial building portfolio.

The two companies found that there was a meeting of minds, culture and ambition, and Lend Lease has now signed a deal to become the local partner for the distribution and installation of First Solar’s thin-film solar panels, whose modules are scalable from roof-top solar to commercial and industrial scale installations, and to large scale utilities.

Lend Lease, of course, has capabilities across all three markets; from its Delfin home business, to its large commercial and industrial property portfolio, and its construction business, where it has already been involved in two large-scale utility proposals that have been shortlisted for the federal government’s Solar Flagships program – one with AGL and First Solar and the other with TruEnergy and First Solar.

For good measure, Lend Lease has decided to take a completely new business approach to the solar PV market and, rather than focus on direct selling like the current incumbents, it has signed an alliance with a yet-to-be-named major bank and an energy utility (one would presume AGL or TruEnergy) to tap into their multi-million customer bases to market and distribute the product. It has also struck an alliance with the Norwegian firm REC, which will provide silicon-based solar panels.

Lend Lease notes that, even with the rapid boost in the solar PV market in the last 18 months aided by the proliferation of state-based feed-in tariffs, less than 3 per cent of Australian householders will have rooftop solar by the end of the year. The market is ripe for the picking.

“This will be a steep change in the domestic market,” says Chris Carolan, the head of Lend Lease Solar, who was the project director for Australia’s first 5 star CBD building, The Bond, the company’s headquarters. “No one saw Bond coming, no one knew what green star was,” he says. “We want to make the same impact with solar PV.”

Carolan expects the “tipping point” of the solar PV market in Australia will occur at around 2014. That will follow three years of anticipated and consecutive 20 per cent rises in local energy costs (mostly to fund grid upgrades) and declining costs in solar. First Solar is already the market leader in costs, has forecast a 20 per cent reduction in costs per year for the foreseeable future and has achieved a 6 per cent fall in the last quarter alone.

The economics of the venture will be boosted by the Brumby government’s large-scale solar target of 5 per cent by 2020, and the country’s first large-scale feed-in-tariff, an initiative Carolan expects will soon be followed by other state governments.

The 5 per cent Victorian target alone equates to around 2000MW of solar by 2020. Given that it will take a few years to roll out the first projects, that equates to a billion-dollar industry in Victoria alone.

Carolan says that quicker approval time, scalability and the wide availability of sunshine will make it a more compelling energy source than wind. And solar may have a price advantage too.

Lend Lease will also be able to bring its financial strength and its impeccable ratings to bear – something that many utilities would be unable to emulate – and its entry to the solar energy market has an even broader significance.

Firstly, it makes a nonsense of the argument that the only companies with the balance sheet and the motivation to bring such industries to life are those that are currently in the generation game, and should therefore be somehow protected because of this. Let’s strike that off the list of justifications for carbon price compensation packages.

Secondly, Lend Lease is putting itself in a prime position for what many describe as the next industrial revolution – an event marked not just by the introduction of new technologies, but also new business models.

And while Lend Lease may be the first large Australian industrial group to take such an initiative, it is in good company – GE, Siemens and a host of Asian companies such as Samsung, LG and Panasonic are taking a similarly proactive approach to the so-called green economy.

Carolan is being coy about targets for market share and financials, but he is starting the business with 30-odd staff and expects to boost this to more than 100 within six months.

Lend Lease has been working assiduously at the task, using 250 of its staff as “guinea pigs” so that Lend Lease could learn the business while installing solar PV on their rooftops. One thing it learned was that it was not satisfied with industry standards, so it is establishing a Lend Lease solar academy.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Carolan says.


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