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New national program aims to enhance energy efficiency of Australian apartment buildings

This month, an innovative new program, Smart Blocks, was launched in two Australian C40 cities, Melbourne and Sydney. Smart Blocks is a national program designed to help apartment owners and their managers save money by improving energy efficiency in apartment buildings. The opportunity for savings is significant, with energy audits showing that on average owners corporations — bodies which collectively manage the common property of a residential, commercial, retail, industrial or mixed-use property development — can reduce their power bills by up to 30 percent.

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Approximately 40 percent of all new housing in Australia is in medium to high density developments. Over 70 percent of residents in both Melbourne and Sydney live in apartments, and these figures are only set to grow. Until now, however, this growing sector of the built environment has lacked tailored, independent information and support to help overcome the complexities of identifying and implementing projects in a strata-titled property, a form of ownership devised for multi-level apartment blocks and horizontal subdivisions with shared areas.

Developed in partnership with Strata Community Australia, City of SydneyCity of Melbourne, Owners Corporation Network of Australia, and Green Strata, the Smart Blocks program includes an interactive online toolkit that helps people identify the efficiency improvements that can be made to common property in their building and walks them through the steps to get those improvements approved by the owners corporations.

It provides a step-by-step project management and collaboration tool for owners corporations to reduce the money they spend running common facilitates, which can include lights, water systems, ventilation systems, heating and cooling plant, and swimming pools. Recognizing the various stakeholders who have a say in the running of an apartment complex, the Smart Blocks site provides advice and templates to guide and prepare owners to identify and deliver energy and cost-saving projects.

Since the program’s launch, the Smart Blocks team has been working collaboratively with nearly 20 community partners across Australia, including 15 cities and towns across five states, to deliver free workshops to apartment owners and their managers.

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City of Melbourne Environment Portfolio Chair Councilor Arron Wood said population growth needed to be supported by innovative and practical initiatives like Smart Blocks.

“Our population is growing quickly. By 2031, we expect an additional 42,000 homes will be built in the City of Melbourne, accommodating 80,000 people. We need to be smart about the way we develop in the future but we also need to make our existing buildings more efficient. This is a critical step to reaching our ultimate goal of becoming a carbon neutral city.”

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said, “With more and more residents living in apartments, we need to explain how using energy more efficiently can make it easier on their wallets and on the environment. Smart Blocks does just that, explaining the large savings that can be made from replacing old assets with more efficient products and how equipment can be used in different ways to slash energy consumption levels.”

Melbourne C40 City Director Claire Blewitt said about the initiative: “The City of Melbourne has a history of innovative program design including 1200 Buildings, Melbourne’s commercial building program. Smart Blocks is a vital addition to the City’s sustainable buildings agenda and represents a great case study demonstrating the value of multi-city and industry collaboration to co-design sustainability programs.”

Smart Blocks is an outstanding example of how City governments and stakeholders can work collaboratively to support practical and tangible community action.

Smart Blocks received funding from the Australian Government’s Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism as part of the Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program.

For more on the Smart Blocks program, please visit www.smartblocks.com.au

For more on the City of Melbourne’s 1200 Building Program, please visitwww.melbourne.vic.gov.au/1200buildings/Pages/Home.aspx