With climate change one of the most pressing issues of our times and energy prices slated to rise, community energy projects are putting the power back into people’s hands.
And Angela Johnstone, from Pingala and Energy Locals, wants to workshop one of these community energy ideas at ChangeCampAU on Saturday July 1.
The concept? Solar Gardens. These involve a community of households collectively owning a 2-3 megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) system. This is much like a residential rooftop solar PV, but is not limited to those households with access to a sunny roof. The system then feeds electricity into the grid and the community sells this power to an energy retailer.
“The one thing that I’m interested in the moment is the idea of Solar Gardens, where investors can also be the customers of a solar system,” says Angela. “Most community projects are ‘behind the metre’, with the community members investing in the panels then the businesses using the energy.”
First Solar Farm
These latter projects are called Solar Farms, and last year Pingala successfully completed its first farm by partnering with Young Henrys brewery in Newtown and 74 keen-bean local people.
Each local invested between $250 and $1000 in the project, helping Pingala to raise the funds to install 115 solar panels on the roof of Young Henrys. Young Henrys pays Pingala a monthly fee to lease the 29.9kW solar system, and the community investors receive an estimated 5% return on their investment each year.
Not only does the business now brew solar-powered beer, but they have also locked in their power prices for the next seven years.
The time is now
According to Angela, Solar Gardens – where the investors are the customers – are the fastest growing segment of the solar industry in the US. Australia, on the other hand, lacks the legislative and financial incentives that spurred the US growth.
But Angela argues that the time is now for these gardens, with the rising cost of electricity and the falling cost of renewables creating the right conditions for them to emerge.
And what better place to explore these emerging ideas than at ChangeCampAU.
“The thing that I wanted to get out of this ChangeCamp is to explore how we get customers and investors on board. We’ve seen a lot of interest in community energy projects; there was a lot of interest in investing in the Young Henrys project. Is this something we can continue to do? Will people want to get involved with a Solar Garden? And if they do want to get involved, how do we encourage that as a community?” she says.
Is your interest piqued by this power topic? Do you have a session idea of your own? Please register by June 25 and submit your session suggestions. If you have already registered but would like to suggest a session, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.