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Shopping centres rely on a massive array of equipment in order to ensure the safety and comfort of tenants, employees and patrons. But the cost of operating complex machinery such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as other gear such as lighting and trash compactors is continuously increasing.

In parallel with escalating energy prices, building owners, investors and facilities managers are on a quest to reduce the carbon emissions from these buildings. While the Federal Government is talking about achieving Net Zero by 2050, the market is moving faster with many businesses pushing towards Net Zero by 2030. Part of that push towards Net Zero is being achieved by the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of shopping centres and car parks.

Typically, the solar panel arrays installed in shopping centres deliver between 1MW and 5MW of power when operating at their peak. This gives building managers ample opportunity to reduce power consumption and carbon emissions. By shifting energy consumption to better match local generation capacity, it’s possible to reduce costs and maximise the return on investment for the solar generation.

HVAC systems account for about half of all energy use in a shopping centre. Typically, buildings are cooled or heated in response to factors such as the building design, weather and foot traffic. When a building’s energy comes solely from the electricity grid, it is subject to different pricing through the day. For example, energy costs less during off-peak periods while peak pricing, which coincides with the times when centres are at their busiest, costs more.

 Solar energy can be generated whenever the sun is shining. So, while it may not be possible to shift all energy use to solar in the current environment – battery technology is evolving but remains too expensive for most use-cases at the moment – it can be used to reduce carbon emissions and costs.

Instead of cooling a building in response to foot traffic, solar energy can be used to pre-cool an area. For example, one of the busiest areas in a shopping centre is the food court during lunch time. Instead of cooling the area as patronage increases, the area can be pre-cooled using solar power. The same can be done to any area of the centre. While the HVAC system will still be operating during the busiest times, it will be operating at a lower capacity.

During inclement weather conditions, energy from solar can be used to preemptively manage everything from temperature to humidity in order to maximise patron, staff and tenant comfort.

It’s not just HVAC systems that can be managed to take full advantage of solar power. Any equipment that can be used without time restrictions can be operated from renewable power. Just as home users with solar panels can operate dishwashers and split systems when solar power is plentiful, shopping centres can do the same with trash compactors and other heavy, energy hungry equipment.

As Australian building owners, facilities managers and property investors are looking to make their properties more attractive and comfortable, the use of solar power can be a powerful tool that can reduce operating costs and help them achieve Net Zero faster. By getting smarter about when energy is used, it’s possible to maximise the return on investment for solar installations, reduce operating costs and make huge strides towards reducing carbon emissions.

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