“We aim to reduce our own environmental impact as well as support our retail partners and communities in their sustainability aspirations,” says Scentre Group Head of Facilities Management, Varun Nair.
As the leader of a team of 150+ facilities management personnel who manage operations at 42 Westfield Living Centres across Australia and New Zealand, Varun drives his passion for environmental sustainability, coupled with the strategic aims of the business, through his team and broader group. This resulted in a highly successful renewable energy generation project coming online at Westfield Coomera towards the end of 2018 when the centre was opened.
“Westfield Coomera was a greenfield project, which means Scentre Group - which has integrated in-house capabilities across development, design and construction, as well as customer experience and asset management - built it from scratch,” says Varun.
“Although my role is primarily in facilities and asset management, because of this in-house end-to-end capability, I was able to lead the solar initiative at Coomera and see it through from design through to operation. We were not constrained by the limitations of existing building infrastructure which we face on some of our existing centre developments and upgrades, allowing us to set an ambitious vision for solar.”
One of Varun’s primary jobs was to get the solar business case across the line. “I was keen for renewable energy generation to be embedded in the design and ensured we thoroughly investigated all the options to see what best-in-class looked like in terms of the technology, size of the system, location and form – resulting in a favourable feasibility.”
Although power generation was a main driver, the company also wanted to be clever about the design and create something to improve the overall experience for our customers and our people.
“The innovation was solar shade panels that draw power from the sun while providing welcome shade in the rooftop car park,” says Varun. “We delivered a unique ‘gull-wing’ carpark structure which maximised the solar output of the system as well as covered more than 400 cars. At the time it was completed, it was the largest solar carpark installation in Australia.”
The full installation size, which not only covers the car park but the roof of the centre too, is 2.3 Megawatts with an annual generation capacity of approximately 3,500 Megawatt hours. This equates to a CO2 offset of over 2,766 tonnes and is equivalent to the annual emissions of around 198 typical Australian households. In 2019, the system produced energy equivalent to 80% of the centre’s annual house electricity usage.
Feedback from customers, retail partners and investors has been positive. “It’s something we get a lot of comments about from our customers, and with ongoing volatility in the electricity market, there is increasing interest about our approach to environmental management from our investors too,” he says.
“There are also benefits for our retail partners. They know that a significant proportion of the electricity they use is clean energy which automatically reduces the environmental impact of their operations.”
Varun said Westfield Coomera holds a unique place in the portfolio because of its greenfield origins and renewable generation capacity was built into the design. “Coomera is creating its own energy, it’s incredibly efficient, it has a reduced impact on the environment, but most of all, it’s testament to our people and their vision for the sustainable management of all our centres into the future,” he says.
At a portfolio level, Scentre Group’s total energy generation from solar power in 2019 equated to 8,259 Megawatt hours, which is roughly the same as the total house electricity usage of a centre the size of Westfield Chatswood in NSW or Westfield Fountain Gate in Victoria.