Talking Property on 2UE: Paolo Bevilacqua on sustainable design

by Paolo Bevilacqua on PULSE (via LinkedIn)

Paolo Bevilacqua sustainable design

This week I was a guest of Sydney radio station 2UE’s Talking Property program. Each week one of our people drops in to the studio to chat live on radio about their property speciality. We talked about comfort as the real driver for sustainable home design, plus driverless cars and how Google plans to get even deeper into our homes.

Clinton Maynard: Sustainability is at the core of what Frasers Property does when it comes to new developments, isn’t it?

Paolo Bevilacqua: Yes it is. We take a pretty broad view of sustainability. People often think of reducing energy and water costs and designing a home well, but we also look at creating a sense of community and I think that’s something we really strive for. I mean, ‘liveability’ is thrown around a lot, as a term, but for us that’s a real part of sustainability.

Clinton: When we in the media talk about environmentalism and sustainability, some people think this is just ‘airy fairy greeny’ stuff, right? From your perspective, what’s your definition of sustainability when it comes to property?

Paolo: Like I said, it’s broad. So when I say liveability, I mean access to transport, jobs, cafes, schools, good parks, a walkable community…

Clinton: So it’s about sustaining a community?

Paolo: Exactly, in various ways. From a social perspective, people want to feel like they live in a community and have some connection to it and from an environmental perspective as well.

Peter Esho: I think what comes to mind for me is heating, cooling, and having a property that doesn’t drain energy costs from example.

Paolo: Definitely, and we have actually done a lot of work in that area. We are doing a great initiative at our Fairwater community at Blacktown, where we’ve introduced an air-conditioning technology called ‘geothermal heating and cooling’. We’re the first company to do it at scale and it’s been a great initiative. It saves the residents there about $500 a year for a typical home.

Clinton: So it’s obviously important from an environmental point of view – it’s good for the planet – but the bottom line is what somebody is forking out in their energy bills every year.

Paolo: Yes, and there is a lot of opportunity for saving. I think every year we spend about $2000 a year on household energy and people simply don’t want to spend that money on energy. They would rather spend it on something else. So we recognise that as something our customers care about and we try and look at how we effectively do that. In Western Sydney there’s a need for air-conditioning, so we try to deliver it more efficiently. And also at places like Discovery Point we’re seeing similar results through recycled water initiatives and energy saving as well.

Peter: Paolo, one of the things that I am a big believer in is the role of the fridge and how households are going to change over the next 10 years as it plugs into the internet. For people listening to the program, what does Frasers Property see the house of the future looking like?

Paolo: I think we’re going to see an increasing role of technology. The fridge is one thing, but sensors are getting a lot cheaper and I think houses are going to become a lot smarter and will be doing things much more intuitively. They will be making our homes smarter, safer, and improving air quality. Look at product like Google Nest…the Nest product is really interesting.

Clinton: Google Nest?

Paolo: Yeah, it’s owned by Google. It’s worth checking out but basically they’re a sensor-type technology and they actually start to understand how you live and adjust your living patterns. So the thermostat can adjust to your conditions, it puts the dryer on or the washer on at the right time to save you energy, and responds to how you live.

Clinton: We have had so many listeners concerned about the census and privacy issues recently. Google already knows everything anyway!

Paolo: Exactly.

Clinton: But anyway, you’re able to use that for good and improving people’s lives. The Fairwater development that you were just mentioning has a 6 star Green Star rating. What does that mean for someone who is buying into Fairwater?

Paolo: It’s a 6 star Green Star Communities rating and it means that somebody has checked that we have delivered on what we promised. 6 stars is the highest possible rating and it represents world leadership. So Fairwater is one of the most sustainable communities in the world and it reflects on all those things that we think are good from a sustainability perspective: the location of the community, it’s close to schools, cafes, jobs and transport. The homes have geothermal heating and cooling. We have got ‘learn to ride’ parks, we have great open spaces… so it’s really bringing all of those together into one rating so we can communicate to our customers that this is one of the most sustainable communities in the world and that this claim has been validated by the Green Building Council of Australia which is the leading authority on sustainability here.

Clinton: Do you think every day Sydneysiders, whether they are buying to occupy or invest, do you think they are caring about sustainability now?

Paolo: Oh, I think people take very different views to sustainability. Some people look at comfort. No one has ever said to me “I want to buy a home that isn’t comfortable”. So for us sustainability goes to comfort… how you introduce daylight, how you insulate your home, how airtight it is. These things make a difference to how comfortable this home is and that effects your health and your wellbeing.

Some people – like an investor – might be thinking “I want to make sure this property is future proof. In five years or ten years, I want to make sure this home appeals to as broad a range of the market as possible.”

Peter: What’s happening with the solar industry? We had this mini-rush to put solar panels on our houses. It has sort of died down after the government incentive was pulled in some areas, so it’s probably in the ‘little bit too hard’ basket for people. So what are you seeing in trends and application into new projects?

Paolo: Solar is one of the big ones that we are starting to introduce in a lot of our projects. I was looking up the stats recently: there are 1.5 million homes now in Australia with solar panels on them and although it has died down a bit after the hype, it is still growing along at a pretty steady rate. But I think towards the end of this year we will see a big spike in battery technology coming into those homes that have solar.

Clinton: It’s rapidly improving. You just have to look at what Tesla is doing.

Paolo: It’s amazing. Solar panel prices have come down 60-70% over the last decade, and batteries will most likely do the same. So people are saying “I want to generate this power but I want to put it somewhere because I am not using it during the day” so that’s why batteries are starting to come along. It’s a bit early but we expect over the next two to five years batteries will start to come in, and solar will continue to grow.

Peter: How will that work for an apartment complex, for example? Would that be a shared utility and then each user taps into it?

Paolo: Yes, there are a few different options we are seeing. You could obviously put a system on to reduce your strata costs, which everyone would benefit from.

Or if you have a lower rise apartment development, you can actually design it for solar and battery storage. We are tossing up with one project whether to put smaller systems into each apartment so they get the direct benefit. And then there are community solar schemes where a group of apartments effectively co-invest in the solar system so they share the benefit. So there are different options and opportunities for apartment owners.

Clinton: It’s great that Frasers Property takes this issue so seriously because as you said that word before: it’s about comfort. It’s about making your customers and people buying into your developments happy with what they are doing.

Paolo: For some people there is a real sense of pride. Residents are buying into a community that has done something for their own health and comfort and for the environment, and that kind of feedback is important to us. We’re constantly trying to keep our customers happy, so sustainability is another one of those elements of the property industry that we need to respond to.

Clinton: It’s that word, “sustainability”. How did you, when you were leaving university, decide to get into the area of sustainability?

Paolo: I’m an engineer traditionally, so I just found an interest in sustainability towards the end of my degree. There’s a lot of technology and a lot of innovation, it’s pretty challenging because it is a bit of a niche area and there is some resistance to it, so I thought this is something I’ll take on.

Clinton: I think that word, sustainability, can get a bad rap from the mainstream, but when you’ve explained what it actually means in terms of people’s everyday lives… there’s so much more about it than just green credentials.

Paolo: I think it has been traditionally thought about from the carbon aspect of it and maybe some of the recycled water aspects of it when we are going through a drought, but sustainability is much, much more than that.

Peter: Can I squeeze one more question in? Driverless cars! (Everyone laughs). What impact do you think they’ll have – do you need a carpark spot for every apartment, for example? Is that a little bit too far away in terms of planning around your business, or is that still something that is on the horizon?

Paolo: We are starting to think about cars and car parking from both a retail and a residential perspective. What will the car park of the future actually look like? Electric vehicles? Driverless vehicles? It’s going to change the way we use cars. At Central Park, we have a fleet of car share vehicles with Go Get. It’s the largest care share hub in Australia.

Bill: So the Go Get vehicles are based there?

Paolo: Yeah, there are about 60 or 70-odd Go Get vehicles there.

Clinton: Central Park is obviously near UTS, in the middle of the city, so that would work.

Paolo: Jump in a car, you might need it for a couple of hours, and then you drop it back again.

Clinton: That’s smart. That’s really smart.

Credit: Article from PULSE via LinkedIn

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