It is 18 months since we initiated this project. I think it would be fair to say that it has provided us in the Project Team with many more highs than lows. I think when we started it seemed quite straight forward – we would install renewable energy and reduce emissions for the planet and electricity costs for us the owners of Blackwattle Mews. Our early success in obtaining a grant from the Sydney Council to carry out the Feasibility Study and subsequent link with WattBlock was a huge boost to our confidence.
The possibilities revealed by the Study served to reinforce and expand our ambition as a team. Now, we didn’t want to settle for just an Embedded Solar Network which reduced emissions and costs we wanted to future proof our Mews against the inevitable advent of Electric Vehicles, possibly even servicing public EV charging stations. Just as Wattblock moved to our second stage of seeking tenders for the technical provision and management of an embedded network we met over breakfast with many of our fellow owners, answered lots of questions, and received strong support to proceed.
We were then challenged by the OC Executive to defend some of our claims and began to recognise how much more complex the project had become. I think we met this challenge satisfactorily but it forced us, with Wattblock’s help, to focus more closely on both the detail of the technical installation and costs and, particularly, how this would all be financed. It would be fair to say that this better prepared us for the examination of the eight tender responses. Today’s meetings with our two shortlisted prospects have reinforced just how difficult it is going to be to eventually arrive at a persuasive case to present to the other owners. Because we could be seen in a way as participant-researchers, we have come to see that, unless we collectively feel sure of what we are proposing, we just cannot mount a case to the other owners for the development.
This said, it is encouraging to know that everyone wants us to succeed. Although we can’t yet be completely sure, probably most of our fellow owners are behind us. Our consultants at Wattblock have been wonderful going way above and beyond their duty and what they are being paid for. Even our potential network supplier/managers want to do what extra they can to help us pull it off, partly of course because it would be good for their future business, but also because they see it as being pioneering for Strata communities everywhere. People in the sustainability movement, as represented by The Fifth Estate article, are keen, as is our local MP. Hopefully, the environmental sustainability staff at the Sydney Council are also still behind us.
So, assuming we are able to get on top of the complex detail in the operation and financing of the initiative, we face the human challenge of finding attractive ways to inform and where necessary educate the decision-makers, the Blackwattle owners – we have to get both the figures and the participation processes right. As I am now seeing this vital piece of the jigsaw, to a significant extent we face a kind of bi-polar balancing challenge: the dollar costs in the now against the potential savings in the longer term, the interests of the owner/occupier against those of the owner/investor, the near present needs against the future needs electric vehicles will bring.
We have learnt a great deal. Serendipitously we found that we have a diverse, capable and reasonably available team which has found ways of working together which have got the job done and provided enjoyment in working together. This blog, our website, the regular up-dates and the face-to-face brekky meeting have kept our fellow residents informed; there will need to be much more of these. The sustainability goals and programs of the Sydney City Council have not just provided essential funding but their officers have been the source of helpful advice and encouragement. The expertise of our consultants has guided and educated us and, to a certain extent, perhaps we have helped them to learn useful lessons that will further enhance their expertise.
Now we look forward to persuading, implementing, monitoring, reporting and advocating so that very many more Strata communities undertake their own journey. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s time to take the next, extremely important step of writing and submitting our application for a Demonstration Grant.