In ‘Community energy’ Category

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On the way towards zero net energy

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In November 2014, Uralla in NSW was awarded the opportunity to become Australia’s first Zero Net Energy Town. From the start—and one of the key reasons their submission was successful—this has been a story of community engagement and contribution, with whole-community benefit at its heart.

A blueprint for action
While other communities are moving towards 100% renewables in different ways, Sandra says that the “Z-NET Blueprint really gave us a focus and an overarching goal.” One of the first things the group did was to set a vision and mission for Z-NET Uralla, to guide decision-making around which activities to undertake.

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As a relatively conservative population (“We’re not tree-huggers, we don’t talk about climate change or greenhouse gas emissions”), their focus is on renewable energy, energy efficiency and saving money on energy bills.

The group’s activities reflect this, and are centred around education and advising practical actions.

While the blueprint for Uralla (a shire of around 6000 people in 2200 households) is moving them towards 100% renewable energy for stationary use (i.e. not including transport) over a 10 to 15 year timeframe, Sandra notes that “at this stage, we are focused on energy efficiency and rooftop solar PV.”

She adds that the level of resources available (funding and volunteers’ time) has determined what the group has been able to achieve to date. But even with these constraints, they’ve achieved a lot over the past couple of years.

Energy efficiency first
The group received grants from both the Murray–Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Program and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, along with great support from the Uralla Shire Council. This enabled them to recruit a project officer to run free business and home energy-use reviews, with help from volunteers.

To date, 23 local businesses (including cafes, a brewery, orchard and dairy) have had an energy-use review, using thermal imaging and monitoring equipment donated by a Z-NET Uralla member. The equipment enabled businesses to get energy-use information specific to their business; for example, one café had eight meters installed on circuits for the coffee machine, fridges and ovens.

Read the full article in ReNew 141.

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Energy justice for First Nations communities

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Aboriginal representatives at the Community Energy Congress have formed an alliance to achieve affordable renewable energy for First Nations communities. Kate Greenwood writes that the ATA is honoured to be part of this process.

ONE OF the highlights of the second Community Energy Congress, held in Melbourne in February this year, was hearing the voices of 13 Aboriginal leaders sharing their personal and powerful stories of what energy justice means to their communities. For some, it is literally a matter of whether they can remain on their ancestral land.

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The Aboriginal leaders took to the stage alongside Melina Laboucan-Massimo and Chief Gordon Planes from Canada. In contrast to the enormous energy security challenges faced by Australia’s First Nations communities, in Canada 50% of community energy is owned by First Nations people. Having delegates from Canada inspired everybody and enabled participants to realise the transformational possibilities of community energy.

In special breakout sessions of the congress, those communities negatively affected by resource extraction, dependence on fossil fuels and climate change met to talk about how renewable energy can be part of a story of hope and a catalyst for change, renewing and regenerating their communities. While the bigger goal for Aboriginal communities is self-determination and sustainable nationhood, renewable energy is a means to get there.

One of the most exciting moments of the congress, on day two, was the launch of the First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance, formed by Aboriginal representatives in attendance.

Fred Hooper of the Murriwarri Nation highlighted the massive change of direction. “We go to government all the time,” he said. “And yet for 200 years the government has been putting us down. This congress has opened our eyes.” He said the power of people to galvanise and make an immediate impact was clear. “What this congress has given us is a chance to get people in one place and build something for us, in partnership with all of you in the audience today.”

Read the full article in ReNew 140.

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Community Energy Congress wrap-up

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HERE at the ATA we are just getting our feet back on the ground after the inspirational Community Energy Congress. More than 500 people attended the two days of the congress in Melbourne, hearing international speakers, sharing Australian success stories and learning about the tools and resources available to community groups for their projects. There was time for groups to plan and network so that the congress was an opportunity to make connections and start putting projects into action. It even felt like there were partnerships and deals forming in the morning and afternoon tea breaks!

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For me the highlight of the event was the formation of the First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance by the Aboriginal representatives at the congress. Fred Hooper, of the Murrawarri Nation, highlighted the massive change of direction: “This congress has opened our eyes.” The power of people to galvanise and make an immediate impact was clear. “What this congress has given us is a chance to get those people in one place and build something for us, in partnership with all of you in the audience today.”

Ghillar Michael Anderson, of the Euahylia Nation, said the group had already established a steering committee. “Taking ownership of energy security is a huge step forward for our First People. It is a big leap towards tackling poverty and disenchantment. The Alliance is the first step to changing the system.”

The ATA is proud to have helped bring the Australian and Canadian First Nation leaders to the congress and we look forward to working with the Alliance for climate justice.

Donna Luckman
CEO, ATA

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100% renewables – how feasible is it?

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With ongoing discussion by government and media about the effect of renewables on the grid, the ATA’s Andrew Reddaway and Damien Moyse consider the feasibility of 100% renewables for Australia.

THE ATA (ReNew’s publisher) supports a transition from fossil fuels to renewable generation in Australia’s electricity grid.
As well as being important to meet our international commitments to fight climate change, this brings other benefits such as improved local health outcomes, greater energy security and more jobs.

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However, as this transition progresses we must ensure the grid remains reliable and avoid economic hardship. How can this be achieved as we approach 100% renewables? This article considers the challenges of relying on intermittent generation, ways to address those challenges and a plan for moving forward.

Read the full article in this month’s longform.

Read more articles in ReNew 138.

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Island of energy: community-owned and renewable

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Denmark’s Samso Island went from complete reliance on imported oil and coal to 100% renewable electricity in just a decade. Jayitri Smiles and Nicky Ison explore the community and government partnerships that made it happen.

DURING the global oil crisis in 1973, Denmark began to think creatively about how to supply cheap energy to their population. As they built their first wind turbine, they were unknowingly establishing themselves as future world leaders in renewable energy.

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Today, Denmark aims to have renewable energy powering 100% of their country by 2050 and to eliminate coal usage by 2030. These targets build on a track record of success: since the 1990s Denmark has witnessed the quadrupling of renewable energy consumption.

The creation of the world’s first fully renewable energy powered island, Samso, is an exemplar of Denmark’s leadership. Not only has Samso become a carbon-negative region, but it has accomplished this world-first using community investment.

In 1997, Denmark’s Minister for Environment Svend Auken was inspired at the Kyoto climate talks. He returned home with a passion to harness the collective efforts of local Danish communities in a way that promoted self-sufficiency in renewable energy. Auken held a competition, which encouraged Danish islands to consider how their clean energy potential could be achieved with government funding and matching local investment.

The most compelling application came from Samso, a small island west of Copenhagen with a population of 4100. This island of 22 villages, at the time run purely on imported oil and coal, was suddenly thrust into the global spotlight and, through a combination of local tenacity, investment and government funding, transitioned to 100% renewable power in just a decade.

At the heart of this energy revolution sit Samso’s community-owned wind turbines. Onshore turbines with a generation capacity of 11 MW offset 100% of the island’s electricity consumption. Another 23 MW of generation capacity from ten offshore turbines offsets Samso’s transport emissions. Most (75%) of the houses on the island use straw-burning boilers via district heating systems to heat water and homes, and the remainder use heat pumps and solar hot water systems.

The extraordinary result is a carbon-negative island and community. The island now has a carbon footprint of negative 12 tonnes per person per year, a reduction of 140% since the 1990s (compare this to Australia’s footprint of 16.3 tonnes per person in 2013 and Denmark’s overall footprint of 6.8). Not only is the island energy self-sufficient, they now export renewable energy to other regions of Denmark, which provides US $8 million in annual revenue to local investors.

And Samso is not slowing down. Highly motivated, knowledgeable and passionate locals are aiming for the island to be completely fossil-fuel free by 2030. They plan to convert their ferry to biogas and, despite already offsetting their vehicle emissions via renewable energy generation, residents of Samso now own the highest number of electric cars per capita in Denmark.

 

Read about their transition in ReNew 138.

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ATA member profile: Ripples in the community

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Long-time ATA member Ali Campbell has no qualms about buying secondhand instead of new and looks at all purchases through a “green lens.” She talks to Jodie Lea Martire about how community is critical to sustainability.

ALI Campbell couldn’t bear to see her old piano go to waste, so it stands in the chook shed as a piece of art. It’s a good demonstration of her creative commitment to sustainability, which has led from high eco-living standards at home to diverse community involvement. As Ali says, being part of an active community “helps sustain you and recharges you for staying in the sustainability field.”

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Bushwalking and camping gave Ali a connection with nature, but her real evolution towards environmental action came with her first child. She and husband Bruce had been “unwise, unwary consumers until that point”, but they realised that every other parent had also needed clothes, cots and change tables so they could use “secondhand everything.” From there, the Campbells took a good look at their “consumption and stuff.” They reduced purchases, packaging and waste, considered where their food and goods came from, and boosted their home chook-and-vegie garden.

The garden led to conversations about sustainability with others, and builder Duncan Hall put Ali and Bruce on to the ATA. Soon, the family was experimenting with solar stoves, and now “everything we do has that green lens.”

They have worked to reduce their home’s environmental impact, including greywater systems, water tanks, double-glazed windows, reorienting for better lighting and using Australian-made materials. Ali used ATA-sourced information to explain her decisions to both their builder and plumber during renovations, and emphasises that it’s crucial to hire workers who ‘get it’ and aren’t just greenwashing their work.

Ali says, “The community thing is critical. It goes without saying, but it needs to be said.” She spent six or so years volunteering as an organiser with Melbourne’s Sustainable Living Festival (SLF), and gardened with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens in Altona Meadows for a time. She is also active on the Inner West Buy Swap Sell and Freecycle Facebook groups.

Ali participates in Transition Hobsons Bay (THB), and she and Virginia Millard run the Give Take Stand: an unstaffed booth where people share quality, unwanted items (like a free op shop). Ali says the autonomous setup has strengthened community involvement without forcing obligation or onus on anyone. It has been hosted in venues around Hobsons Bay and the council is providing funds to boost the work and establish the stand as a waterproof outdoor shed.

Another project Ali organises through SLF and the transitions group is Bunches of Lunches. Now in its third year, Ali and Transitions Hobsons Bay member Tarius McArthur run three-hour sessions which teach participants to cook five healthy, freezable dishes suitable for school lunches—and promote local food, low packaging and low energy use.

Ali and Bruce have also combined their home and community efforts by signing up their new seven-seater VW Caddy to Car Next Door, allowing locals to rent their vehicle. This let the Campbells balance their need for a second car every now and then, while knowing they’re “not just sitting on this asset.”

Reading ReNew gives Ali great ideas, a sense that she’s not alone in her activism, and—most importantly—hope. The magazine’s coverage of policy developments, news analysis and innovations provides “positivity and support, and that’s what keeps her doing this.”

To end with Ali’s own assessment of her environmental contribution: “I can feel frustrated because I’m not creating seismic change, but I hear frequently, most weeks, ‘You’d love this, Ali!’, so I know I’m having a ripple effect around me and I just hope that keeps rippling on and on.”

This member profile is published in ReNew 138. Buy your copy here.

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Finding value in sharing

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Can we find value for both customers and the network in sharing locally generated energy and thus accelerate a transition to 100% renewables? Bruce Thompson and Paul Murfitt discuss the potential in microgrids, virtual power plants and more.

The transformation of the electricity network is certainly now upon us. Years of environmental advocacy, rapid technology advances and shifts in consumer demand are driving an unprecedented shake up of our century-old supply network. With this change come opportunities (and some risks) to harness the value of renewable energy across the grid as we drive towards zero emissions.

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Traditionally, Australia’s electricity networks were largely built and controlled by state governments, and operated as central power supply systems managed with two policy imperatives in mind: security of supply and cost-effectiveness. The much-heralded disruption is turning this system upside down, bringing technical and financial challenges along with opportunities.

The big shift to date has been ‘behind the meter’, where there is a clear case for householders and businesses to invest in solar PV to avoid the cost of conventional energy supply. Yet establishing value ‘in front of the meter’—sharing your locally generated energy across the grid—has so far been fraught.

With the tapering off of feed-in-tariffs, owners of solar have been frustrated they don’t receive a fair price for their homegrown generation. On the other side of the fence, network operators have been aggrieved by the need to manage the technical impacts of solar PV and wind while their business model ‘death spirals’ from lower consumption.

Beyond the angst, new models such as microgrids and virtual power plants are starting to demonstrate that sharing solar PV generation and battery storage across the grid can leverage the opportunities and help manage the risks inherent in Australia’s changing electricity sector. For customers, potential benefits include access to wholesale pricing and retail tariffs. For networks, there can be lower costs from local control and load management, particularly if the models can reduce peak demand and avoid the need for network infrastructure augmentation.

Of course, the value of sharing locally generated energy across the grid is dependent on the time of day, the time of year and the location. The key challenge for ‘in front of the meter’ solutions is not only to understand the technology, but also to apply the fundamental principles of supply and demand to determine where the greatest value can be realised.

Bruce Thompson recently joined GreenSync as the Community Development Director following 12 years at Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd (MEFL) as major projects director. He is also the outgoing chair of the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE). Paul Murfitt was recently appointed director of energy efficiency for the Victorian Government and is the outgoing CEO of MEFL.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

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Neighbourly sharing: mini-grid in Mooroolbark, community battery in WA

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Neighbours in the Melbourne suburb of Mooroolbark are set to share their energy generation via a mini-grid in an Australian-first trial run by AusNet Services. Eva Matthews finds out what’s involved.

IN AN Australian first, network provider AusNet Services is currently rolling out a solar + storage mini-grid trial in Mooroolbark, in Melbourne’s east.

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Of the 16 homes on the chosen street, 14 will each have between 3 and 4.5 kW of solar panels and a 10 kWh battery storage system installed, with a cloud-based monitoring and management platform to optimise power flows across the mini-grid and to provide demand management support to the network.

The two-year trial was announced in April and was made possible with funding from the Demand Management Innovation Allowance. Participants don’t pay for the equipment and, at the end of the trial, get to keep their panels and inverter (but the control system and battery storage go back to AusNet Services).

As at end August, all houses have solar panels, inverter and battery storage installed, enabling data gathering on energy generation and usage patterns. The control system should be in by end October, which is when testing can begin in earnest. Testing will include deciding when to charge and discharge the batteries, and at what rate, based on current and forecast customer usage and PV generation as well as the network requirements. A single objective (e.g. minimising the overall peak demand on the mini-grid) can be implemented in a number of ways, so they will be developing and testing different approaches. The stabilising device and switching equipment that enable the mini-grid to be islanded (isolated from the rest of the network) will be installed towards the end of this year.

The group of houses will operate as a mini-grid from a control and electrical point of view, but the metering and billing arrangements are unchanged. To enable financial offsetting of one participant’s generation against another’s usage would require different meters to be installed—with a parent meter for the mini-grid and sub-meters for each house—so instead they will be modelling the potential financial effects.

Two households were unable to participate in the trial; however, this will provide fortuitous real-world data for where there is less than 100% opt-in—testing how the mini-grid can serve the energy needs of these houses without having their energy contribution in the mix. AusNet Services’ Distributed Energy and Innovation Manager Justin Harding explains, “Those houses will simply appear as extra loads in the mini-grid. For example, if we are trying to reduce the net demand of the mini-grid to zero at the connection point to the main grid, all houses would need to export a small amount of energy to offset the non-participants’ load.”

Simone and Joel Beatty make up one of the households participating in the trial. When they purchased their home five years ago, Simone says they noticed that a lot of the new houses being built were having solar installed, and it was something they were interested in, but hadn’t been able to afford. So when AusNet Services came knocking on their door with news of the trial, Simone says they were “definitely excited.” As well as looking forward to seeing how it all works, and the impact on their electricity bills, Simone says they have also benefitted from the information provided by AusNet Services—how they can log in to a web portal to monitor their electricity usage and ways in which they can be more energy efficient. She says they have “definitely already altered some behaviours.” And not only has there been an educational side effect of having the technology installed, it has given the neighbourhood something in common to talk about and get excited about. Simone says “everyone seems very positive about it” and adds that friends and family are jealous!

This trial follows a three-year battery storage trial by AusNet Services that tested how residential batteries can reduce customer’s maximum demand for electricity and support the network. Justin Harding says that there will likely be an “evolution of trials” into the future. This Mooroolbark trial has a strong customer learning and technical focus; the next step could be a larger project with more of a commercial focus, looking at how best to structure finances and customer agreements.

Tech used in Mooroolbark mini-grid:

  • 3 kW of panels (JA Solar) per house, except where customers had existing PV systems
  • 10 kWh lithium ion battery storage (LG Chem) per house
  • 5 kW battery inverter (Selectronic
    SP Pro) per house
  • Peak Response Unit (GreenSync) per house—a communications device for optimising power flows, includes 3G modem that talks to the main control system and battery inverter
  • cloud-based control platform (GreenSync’s MicroEM)—runs forecasting/optimisation calculations to enable locally generated/stored energy to be shared between homes, based on the needs of individual houses and the needs of the mini-grid
  • a separate 3-phase inverter and Toshiba battery system from Power Technology to keep the mini-grid stable when in islanded mode
  • switching cabinet with circuit breaker and protection relay to transition the mini-grid to/from the main grid, supplied by EIV.

Aims/benefits of the trial:

  • test how mini-grids can support the network, e.g. to better manage peak demands, reduce risk of system overload, defer capital expenditure
  • optimise value of the assets both for customers and the network, e.g. getting full value from battery storage when customers are grouped and there is one overriding control system versus single households exporting/importing energy to/from the grid
  • better understand household generation and usage patterns to help determine payment structures and tariffs, and test how energy self-sufficient a community can be
  • test potential for an uninterruptible power supply, i.e. where homes can be islanded, either individually or as a microgrid, and stored energy used if the grid goes down
  • investigate the performance of new methods to identify and mitigate electrical faults in a 100% inverter-based supply environment.

Best of both? Community battery trial in WA

A CUTTING-EDGE residential battery trial underway in the new Perth suburb of Alkimos allows residents to generate solar electricity and benefit from access to a ‘virtual storage’ battery system.

Led by local energy provider Synergy, in collaboration with Lendlease and LandCorp, the project involves a utility-scale grid-connected 0.5 MVA/1.1 MWh battery energy storage system located on-site in two shipping containers.

It has a number of aims: to reduce energy bills for participating households and improve network efficiencies by ultimately reducing connection costs. However, the most interesting and important aspect of the trial is Synergy’s ‘time of use’ billing product called the Peak Demand Saver plan.

The plan works by offering a three-part tariff for network energy, with different energy charges for peak daily (4 pm to 8 pm), off-peak day (midnight to 4 pm) and off-peak evening (8 pm to midnight). The time-of-use energy tariffs are designed to encourage households to minimise consumption and maximise returns on their solar PV investment—but without the need to invest in their own battery storage.

This new-style product means Alkimos residents pay a fee each month to have access to the community-scale battery storage. Those who store solar credits during the day draw on them first during the peak daily period, and then for the evening off-peak without incurring any additional costs, in much the same way they would their own battery.  During the day households use their own solar energy.

“It’s everybody’s battery to use. Customers pay $11 per month to use it, and then we calculate their usage over a 60-day billing period,” said Synergy.

“Anything they put into the batteries is theirs to draw on at peak times at no additional charge. And whatever they have left in the battery after the 60-day billing cycle is purchased from them at a 7 cents per kWh [feed-in tariff] rate. Because it is ‘virtual’ storage you can pretend it is your own battery, it’s just your neighbours are pretending it’s their battery too.”

So far, 65 residents have opted to participate in the trial since it began in April 2016 with the aim that 100 households will take part over the four-year trial period. Before residents join the trial, Synergy analyses their historical consumption to ensure the tariff suits their usage patterns.

“However, we’ve already had customers who want to participate even though they are not necessarily going to be better off, because they want to be part of the first shared battery trial in Australia,” said Synergy.

The trial will cost around $6.7 million and is backed with a $3.3 million Australian Renewable Energy Agency grant, and when launching the trial ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said community-scale battery storage held great promise. “A new [housing] development like this might actually need less of a connection, or a smaller connection [to the electricity network]. That means lower costs for those people that are buying new lots and less investment into poles, wires and transformers,” he said.

For more info: www.synergy.net.au/Global/Alkimos-Peak-Demand-Saver-plan

Read more on microgrids in ReNew 137.

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Up front in ReNew: Renewables for all

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AS ITS name suggests, Renewables for All is an initiative to help ensure equitable access to clean energy technology for all Australians “no matter their income or living arrangements.” Set up by the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE), along with Community Power Agency and Starfish Initiatives, it provides a potential policy framework and business models for governments and agencies to work from, with briefing papers now available on:

  • Solar gardens: the establishment of central solar facilities that enable apartment owners/tenants and others who aren’t able to put solar on their rooftop to have access to clean energy and bill savings.
  • Financing via rates or rents: these mechanisms could allow payback over time by low-income homeowners or renters to councils or homeowners who finance the purchase of these technologies.
  • Community-owned renewable energy projects to increase clean energy accessibility and affordability.
  • Mini-grids and embedded networks: outlining the different approaches and benefits and what policy changes are required to enable them.
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For more information on this project and to download all the papers: www.bit.ly/2aWSuRZ

Read more news stories in the Up front section in ReNew 137.

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Still a clever country

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Energy efficiency consultant Geoff Andrews admires Australian innovation, but, as has often been noted, finds the next step—commercialisation—is lacking. Collaboration, governments and risk-taking could all improve that, he suggests.

I view innovation as change for good, so change which improves sustainability clearly qualifies. Most readers of ReNew would agree that we have to improve the sustainability of our society, so we must innovate. But, how do we do that, and what lessons can we draw from Australia’s sustainability innovation performance to date?

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There is no question that Australia has provided the world with more than its share of innovations, including in sustainability. In renewable energy alone, Australia has led the world in PV efficiency for decades, pioneered many improvements in solar water heaters, and is now developing wave energy. We’ve been first or early implementers of two flow battery technologies (vanadium redox by Maria Skyllas-Kazaco at UNSW in 1980 and zinc bromine by RedFlow). Scottish-born James Harrison built one of the first working refrigerators for making ice in Geelong in 1851 (before that, ice was imported from Canada),and we invented wave-piercing catamarans and the Pritchard steam car. We even had manned (unpowered) flight by heavier-thanair craft a decade before the Wright brothers with Lawrence Hargrave’s box-kite biplane.

Of course, Australian innovations are prevalent in many other sustainability areas including medicine, construction, agriculture and fisheries, but space is limited here. What we could have done a lot better is commercialising those innovations in Australia. Imagine if Australia led the world in the manufacture of solar panels, refrigerators, air conditioners, wi-fi devices and evacuated tube heat exchangers, the way we do with wave-piercing catamarans and bionic ears.

Improving commercialisation would provide funds to improve our budget bottomline and allow us to do even more innovation and more commercialisation. To achieve this, I think we need to do several things.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

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Investing in community: Where solar makes sense

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A remote Aboriginal community and investors came together to cut bills, reduce emissions—and generate investment returns. ATA’s Andrew Reddaway describes how this innovative project went from proposition to implementation.

The idea for a solar system at Kurrawang Aboriginal Christian Community in Western Australia began with Alternative Technology Association member Robin Gardner (ATA is ReNew’s not-for-profit publisher). Over several years he’s assisted the Kurrawang community with administration through his involvement in Indigenous Community Volunteers and, in the process, he identified the community’s strong potential for solar power.

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With the Kurrawang not-for-profit community located between Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, about 600 km east of Perth, that solar potential is excellent. Until this project, Kurrawang obtained all its electricity from the main Western Australian electricity grid, which is fossil fuelled and charges relatively high electricity tariffs (around 36 c/kWh peak). The community is billed as a single entity and then recovers costs from its 120 residents through meters on each of the 31 houses.

Robin consulted with Kurrawang’s board of directors to gain support for the solar project, particularly Rowena Leslie and Denise Lynch who made the project happen.

Sunny scenarios
The first step was to find out just how much a solar system could benefit the community. Robin sought assistance from the ATA, and we helped model the community’s energy use and potential generation using Sunulator, ATA’s in-house-developed solar calculator.

After exploring several scenarios, the ideal system size was found to be around a 30 kW system. Such a system would displace about 20% of Kurrawang’s grid electricity and is small enough for relatively easy approval by the local electricity distributor. Since all the buildings are billed as a single entity, total demand is quite smooth and it was predicted that exports to the grid would be rare. This helps the economics of the project because the electricity retailer pays little for electricity fed into the grid.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

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Solar sells: Australian PV research and innovation

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From PERCs to heliostats to improving PV quality, Andrew Blakers from the Australian National University describes high-impact innovations that found their way through Australian-led, government-supported research.

Through consistent government grants for innovation over the past 40 years, Australia has punched far above its weight in renewable energy innovation, particularly when it comes to photovoltaics (PV). The potential benefits for the Australian economy are substantial. PV now constitutes about a quarter of new electrical generation capacity installed worldwide each year; wind comprises another quarter; and coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydro and all other renewables combined constitute the other half. In Australia, PV and wind comprise practically all new generation capacity.

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Support for research and innovation lies at the heart of accelerated growth of the renewable energy industry. It supports later-stage commercialisation directly through technology development. Additionally, university research groups underpin undergraduate and postgraduate education and training of engineers and scientists.

High-impact Australian innovations
What are some of the ways Australia has contributed to solar research, and what are some of the commercial successes? Here are eight examples of high-impact innovations that emerged from Australian-led R&D.

1. PERC SOLAR CELLS
The PERC silicon solar cell is an Australian invention which is now used in about half of new solar cell production lines worldwide. It’s set to soon dominate the worldwide solar industry, according to the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics. So far this is the most successful renewable energy technology to emerge from Australia.

2. PHOTO-LUMINESCENCE
BT Imaging’s advanced photo-luminescence characterisation systems for research and industry emerged from the University of NSW. They enable researchers and industrial engineers to visually assess silicon quality in great detail and to modify processes to maximise quality.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

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The world’s first baker

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Why don’t we know about the oldest grinding stones in the world, found in Australia, or the crops cultivated by Aboriginal Australians? Bruce Pascoe is helping change that.

If you were asked who the world’s first bakers were, what would your answer be? Most would think first of ancient Egypt where it is believed bread was first baked around 17,000 BCE. And yet there is evidence to show that grindstones in Australia were used to turn seeds to flour 30,000 years ago. Archaeologists found the evidence for this at Cuddie Springs in New South Wales in the shape of an ancient grinding stone which had been used to reduce grass seeds to flour. These were the bakers of antiquity. It took Egypt 12,000 years to repeat this baking experiment. Why don’t our hearts fill with wonder and pride?

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Australian sovereign nations cultivated domesticated plants, sewed clothes, engineered streams for aquacultural and agricultural purposes, and forged spiritual codes for the use of seed in trade, agricultural enterprises, marriage and ceremony.

This was and is an incredible human response to the difficulties of fostering economic, cultural and social policies. It may be unique in its longevity but also in its ability to flourish without resort to war. Australia’s reluctance to acknowledge what was lost can be witnessed in our ignorance of the birth of baking, the gold standard of economic achievement.

Why is this? Is it a malicious refusal to recognise the economic triumphs of the people from whom the land was taken or a simple culture of forgetting fostered by the bedazzlement of Australian resources and opportunities?

If we could rid ourselves of the myth of low Aboriginal achievement and nomadic habits, we might move toward a greater appreciation of our land. We might begin to wonder about the grains that explorer Thomas Mitchell saw being harvested in the 1830s, and the yam daisy monoculture he saw stretching to the horizon of his ‘Australia Felix’, the early name given to western Victoria. These crops must have been grown without pesticides and chemical fertilisers and in harmony with the climate; surely they are worthy of our investigation.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

community_energy

Community energy steps up: Decarbonising locally

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Community energy is growing fast! Jarra Hicks and Franziska Mey of Community Power Agency report on the many projects taking off and some of the remaining barriers under investigation.

Since Australia’s first community-owned renewable energy project, Hepburn Wind, started generating in mid-2011, many projects have followed to create a small, but rapidly growing movement.

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Integral to that growth has been the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE), a loose coalition of organisations working to promote and foster community energy projects. C4CE reports that there are now 73 groups developing community energy of all different kinds across all states and territories in Australia—from solar and battery storage projects to replace diesel in remote communities in WA, to bioenergy projects using town and agricultural waste, to partnerships with larger wind and solar developers.

In C4CE’s first assessment of community energy in Australia in 2015, groups reported on 23 operating projects, accounting for more than 9 MW of installed wind or solar capacity. Together they involve over 21,000 people and produce 50,000 MWh of electricity per year, avoiding 43,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Since then, at least eight more projects have begun operating.

What’s driving community renewables?
The number one driver is that people care about climate change. A 2014 survey found that reducing carbon emissions to address climate change was the leading motivation for most groups (89%). In fact, almost half of all projects have grown out of climate action groups in communities. In a context where the effects of climate change are being felt more and more each year and our government continues to take a weak and changeable stance on climate policy, this is likely to keep driving communities to pursue their own local source of clean energy.

Also, we are starting to see links with the anti-coal and gas movements, as communities threatened with new fossil fuel developments want to pursue safer and less disruptive means of generating energy. This is especially the case in the Northern Rivers in NSW, where there has been an explosion of activity in the past four years, alongside a successful campaign to boot out coal seam gas.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

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ATA member profile: Making sinewaves in Australia

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Long-time ATA member and software engineer Rod Scott continues to expand the work of Selectronic, his family business which 35 years ago created Australia’s first inverter. He talks to Kulja Coulston.

The success of the renewable energy industry has often tracked along a “sinewave sales curve”, according to Rod Scott, the products and business manager of inverter manufacturer Selectronic. “It’s standing on its own feet more now, but there were times when government program early announcements could dry up business for five months at a time,” he says of the ‘boom and bust’ cycle that has typified the renewable sector in Australia.

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Together with his brother Ken, Rod Scott is continuing the work of his pioneering family business which has been part of the local industry from the beginning. Selectronic produced their first inverter in 1981: “It was a 360 watt DC to AC square wave inverter,” explains Rod. “We started small and it grew from there.” In 1990 Selectronic developed one of the earliest model sinewave inverters.

“It was then that our bigger models started to come out with energy-management functionality. It was all off-grid back then,with Australia being such a sparse country—storage for on-grid systems would have been a very strange concept!” It was in the early 2000s when they developed their first grid-interactive inverter, as that side of the market started to take off.

Rod’s parents established Selectronic in 1964 as a contract manufacturing business and ran it out of the Scotts’ backyard bungalow in Boronia, Victoria, before moving into a factory. The company cut its teeth custom-making transformers and inductors for the local electronics industry before launching its own electronics products division. Decades later, Selectronic continues to manufacture products locally, when most manufacturing has moved offshore.

“We were one of the first to make inverters in Australia, and we might also be one of the last.” Employing around 35 to 40 staff at its Chirnside Park factory in Victoria, Selectronic indirectly employs another 100 people in Australia through its supply chain, and will soon open an international office in Johannesburg. “We can’t get everything made here, particularly the specialist electronics, but we support local if we can, as it gives us flexibility and control over the quality of the product.”

Research and development has underpinned the company’s success for half a century, explains Rod: “Our future products look like what our customers demand, and it’s always been that way. When we developed the SP PRO in 2008, we already had 28 years of off-grid experience.” Selectronic’s continued commitment to the traditional offgrid market is also paying off, as the flexibility and reliability of those systems is relevant to the growing solar hybrid market. A few years ago a German company, KACO New Energy, rebadged Selectronic’s 5 kW SP PRO under their own label.

Rod has been an active ATA member and committed advertiser in ReNew. He is also personally committed to renewable technology at home, and is running off a 5 kW SP PRO with about 2.5 kW of solar photovoltaic panels. At a recent party none of his guests noticed the suburb-wide power outage: “I had to take everyone out onto the street before they believed me that we were the only ones still with power.”

This member profile is published in ReNew 136. Buy your copy here.

solar_timor

Another world: Light up East Timor

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As well as balmy beach-side nights, Tim Adams got lessons in life and new DIY skills on a tour to install solar lighting in East Timor.

When you live in Melbourne, sea breezes, beers on a beachside café balcony and balmy nights don’t immediately come to mind as part of early spring. Shift to East Timor though, and this was exactly the experience on the Light Up East Timor tour in September 2015. It was a perfect time to be in East Timor: being late in the dry season, the humidity was not excessive and disease-carrying mosquitoes were virtually non-existent.

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Part holiday, part community development The Light Up East Timor tours run by Timor Adventures and supported by ReNew’s publisher, the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), are part holiday, part community development. Timor-Leste is still recovering after centuries of occupation by the Portuguese and then decades of turmoil under Indonesian rule. The people are rightly proud of their recently won independence, but the full repair of structures, systems and souls will take a very long time.

The ATA has been making a contribution to that repair process for some time with a program that installs solar lighting systems. Although electricity generation and distribution has reached larger centres, there are no plans to extend the network to many remote hillside villages. For those villages, ATA’s approach of installing 20 watts of photovoltaic generation capacity, battery storage and two lights in each house means that many activities can happen after dark, including cooking and reading. The impact on the ability for children to study is profound. Lessons learned from other well-meant aid programs have not been lost on the ATA.

Read the full article in ReNew 134

A light in the bush

A light in the bush

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A pilot project at an Indigenous ranger station in northern Queensland has shown how collaboration can help bring low-cost sustainable power to remote bush locations—and turn off the polluting generators. By David Tolliday.

For many years now, volunteers with the Alternative Technology Association (ATA, ReNew’s publisher) have been working with other organisations to provide solar lighting and improve quality of life in East Timor. Last year, ATA’s volunteers were called on to similarly help power up Oriners Ranger Base in Cape York, northern Queensland.

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A seed is sown
In 2014, the Kowanyama Shire Council’s Land Office invited the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) to visit their Oriners Ranger Base (160 km west of Laura, on the Cape York Peninsula) to look into the power and water situation there. In particular, the base was in need of a new, reliable stand-alone solar energy system to replace the old 12 V system that had, sadly, been stolen from the site a couple of years earlier.

The land office hoped CAT’s experience and design knowledge would help them find the best way to set up a system, maximising the use of very limited funds (from their own income sources) to achieve a high-quality, durable remote-area solar power system. Looking at the challenge, CAT considered a collaborative model that would incorporate pro-bono installation by experienced solar industry professionals combined with ‘sweat equity’ from the community. This model would use key elements of their highly successful Bushlight Program (see box), along with the pro-bono partnerships.

A project is born
In early 2015, after discussions with the ATA (whom CAT considered a natural partner for the project), CAT’s pilot proposal was accepted. The ATA had agreed to support the pilot by sourcing two volunteers with the appropriate technical expertise and experience to take care of the installations.

The ATA put out a national call for suitable volunteers and, after a selection process, I was chosen to be the lead installer, with John Dickie assisting. I’m from Melbourne and John’s from Canberra, and we are both electricians and Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited solar installers.

After months of planning, we arrived in Cairns to meet CAT’s Project Manager, Andre Grant. We then spent two days checking and loading equipment, and purchasing last-minute supplies before heading off for the seven-hour 4WD trip to Oriners Ranger Base.

After meeting the Indigenous rangers—’Brolga’ (Philip Yam), Garry Hudson and John Clark—along with land and sea manager Chris Hannocks and local Kowanyama Shire electrician Jared Warren, we surveyed the existing power setup. It consisted of an array of petrol generators, extension leads, portable lights and power boards, mostly laying across the ground. In anticipation of the arrival of the truck and container the next day, we headed to bed early.

As with all good plans, things didn’t go quite right—the truck had to turn back because of a leaking radiator; two days later, it arrived. The days were very hot and the humidity high, so work was limited to early morning and late afternoon. (You know it’s hot when not even the Indigenous rangers will work in the midday heat!) At one point we realised we had miscalculated the required quantity of array cable. Some frantic telephone calls later, we had the parts on a plane to the local town—a three-hour round trip away.

We had a time limit of two weeks, which sounds plenty; however, wiring the ranger station made our job more involved, and we also installed the container we shipped up with our solar equipment as a new secure kitchen/storage area, to help prevent thefts when the rangers were away.

Early in the second week, we were finally able to test and commission the stand-alone power system, and so turn off the noisy, polluting generators. Oriners Ranger Base now had a reliable, sustainable 240 V power supply—for light, power and, importantly, refrigeration, for maintaining food for the rangers over the wet season, when access is severely restricted.

We finally broke camp on the Tuesday to head back to Cairns. Taking two days, we checked out the next possible project at a ’nearby’ Indigenous-owned cattle station. Back in Cairns, we had a night out to celebrate a successful project before boarding our planes home the next day.

Highlights (and challenges!)
It was challenging, not only because we were miles from any suppliers, but also because it was hot: very, very hot. It was a great experience, however, and the team worked well together. Having the opportunity to share my solar knowledge with John, Jared and Andre was very rewarding. The Indigenous rangers really appreciated our efforts, and they were also great—sharing their knowledge and stories, and taking us ‘red claw’ (freshwater crayfish) hunting for our dinner. I can highly recommend volunteering.

For John: “As well as a fantastic experience working in a remote location and meeting some sensational people, it was great to be able to contribute, albeit in a small way, to the installation of sustainable, clean, quiet technology that provides more reliable power for essential items such as refrigeration, lighting and communications, and which should have a long lifespan. This, in turn, allows the traditional owners and rangers to more effectively look after and manage their country.”

Technical details
The project was to design and install a reliable and robust stand-alone power system that would provide at least 10 kWh per day of 240 V supply to the ranger’s house and shed, to replace aging generators that were not only noisy and unreliable, but also produced considerable pollution.

The design was based on a DC-coupled PV array stand-alone configuration; however, with changes in industry practices and thinking, we would consider an AC-coupled system for future installations.

One issue that became apparent in designing this system was the change in the requirement of power conversion equipment (inverters and charge controllers) in AS/NZS 5033, which came into effect in July 2015. Many of the tried-and-true charge controllers used in stand-alone power systems for years no longer complied, and the newer, approved models were not readily available.

Finally, reliability and redundancy were major considerations in this design. In line with CAT’s experience, the system was robustly designed to ensure the realities of remoteness and poor access to service and support would not lead to system breakdown or failure.

Key specs:

  • PV modules: 24 x BenQ model PM060P00-255 (total 6.12 kW)
  • PV mounting frame: Clenergy PV-ezRack® SolarTerrace II-A
  • Inverter: Selectronics SP-Pro SPMC481-AU 5 kW
  • Charge controller: 2 x Studer Vario Track VT80 MPPT charge controllers
  • Batteries: 24 x Hoppecke 8 OPzV Solar 1000Ah VRLA (50 kWh)
  • Surge protection: 2 x MidNite MNSPD DC Type 1 devices
  • Capacity: Minimum 10 kWh per day from 50 kWh battery bank

About CAT
Governed by a majority Indigenous Board, the Centre for Appropriate Technology is a not-for-profit technology innovation company that works with remote Indigenous communities to design, build and manage technologies that support self-reliance and economic independence.
CAT is well known for its Bushlight Program, which designed and installed 130 solar systems (stand-alone and hybrid) to provide reliable, affordable 24-hour power to small communities across Australia. Bushlight systems near Kowanyama include Fish Hole, Scrubby Bore and Baas Yard.

The Bushlight approach ensures that system design is based on community planning processes that benchmark current and future energy needs, and provides community-based training in monitoring and managing the systems to maintain optimal loads and performance. This project provided the opportunity to develop a new model for delivering solar power with limited funding, while incorporating the sustainability and reliability delivered by the Bushlight approach. It hopefully benchmarks a process that will be of benefit to other remote ranger bases and homelands.

David Tolliday is a senior instructor in renewable energy training at Holmesglen Institute in Melbourne. He holds CEC accreditation in grid-connected PV and stand-alone (off-grid), small wind and hybrid power systems.

Read more articles in ReNew 135.

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Local, clean, green: The new generation

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ATA intern Ashleigh McMillan fills us in on the latest community energy projects driving change in Australia’s renewable energy mix.

Several communities around Australia have taken up the challenge of going 100% renewable, and many more are crowdfunding solar on schools, community centres, pubs and more. Community energy is infectious it seems!

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One of the driving forces behind that growth is the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE). Formed in June last year, with the Alternative Technology Association (ATA, ReNew’s publisher) as one of its founding members, C4CE is a coalition of organisations all aiming to assist or develop local community renewable energy projects.

A key stepping stone towards that has just been released by C4CE: the National Community Energy Strategy. This document provides a snapshot of what’s happening now in Australia’s vibrant community energy sector, alongside an examination of future potential. It includes recommendations on community energy models, funding and regulatory reform. An important aim of the national strategy is to create an environment that encourages innovation and new funding models for community energy—something the ATA is deeply supportive of!

For those looking into launching their own community energy project, the strategy includes a detailed appendix (Appendix E) on behind-the-meter solar models—those where the solar energy generation is used on-site rather than being exported to the grid. The appendix provides case studies of successful projects and, more broadly, an analysis of the challenges and costs faced by community energy projects, and how they can be addressed. It also includes an interactive decision guide to assist with working out the model most appropriate for your project (see sample at right).

The Coalition for Community Energy’s Nicky Ison says she hopes the national strategy “will help create a framework for and culture of collaboration between all organisations interested in growing a community energy sector in Australia.”

Read the full article in ReNew 132.

ReNew Editor, Robyn Deed

ReNew 129 editorial: Community energy special

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I like the term community energy, conjuring up, as it does, a picture of enthusiastic community contributors—aptly illustrated in the photo of exuberant delegates at the recent community energy congress on page 40!

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The idea of community energy is a simple one—energy projects funded by the (usually local) community. However, its genesis in Australia has been anything but simple, with planning, financial and regulatory hurdles slowing down or preventing the development of many projects.

But it seems a pleasing shift is happening. A notable milestone was the community energy congress, held in June, which brought together groups and individuals with bucketloads of energy to get projects started, and share ideas.

That’s one of the things you notice straight away about community energy—there’s a whole lot of information sharing going on. From the Difference Incubator’s legal templates, to Embark’s governance structures, to ATA’s Sunulator, and much more besides, there are many ideas and models to borrow from—with some now proven in the field (or on the bowling club roof, as with Shoalhaven’s Repower One project!).

This issue we take a tour of community energy projects happening in Australia right now, including community solar, a bioenergy project that could transform a rural town, and the installation of two wind farms. We also consider the sorts of issues that can arise in community energy projects, around such things as metering and management.

Plus, we take a step back and look at community action more generally. Dr Samuel Alexander from the Simplicity Institute has examined the ‘disruptive potential’ of a range of social movements. Covering collaborative consumption, divestment, transition towns and community energy (and more in the original paper), his review of all these areas carefully considers just how effective they can be in initiating a low-carbon shift.

Our cover house sits somewhere in that world of social sharing. Built with the help of travellers, exchanging their work for board and lodging via HelpX, it’s also a great example of reuse and sustainability. We were also excited to find out about OpenShed, a website enabling the sharing of tools!

There’s much more to consider in this issue too, from a pioneering owner-build using hempcrete, to a discussion of how EVs could affect the grid, to a power station in a backyard in Tassie. We cover the basics of inverters, present an efficient hot water buyers guide, and delve into what’s available in renewable energy courses. Collyn Rivers explains how to improve the performance of fridges in caravans (with many of the tips just as applicable to domestic fridges). We also present our Winter Energy Challenge winner and notable entries, all innovative and practical. Enjoy!

Robyn Deed

ReNew Editor

community energy congress 2014 450 px

People power

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In a year of milestones for community energy in Australia, Craig Memery takes us on a tour of how the ATA is helping projects with the strategies and resources they need.

It won’t come as a surprise to ReNew readers to hear that ReNew’s publisher, the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), is excited about community energy in Australia. Having been the collective owners of the Breamlea wind turbine two decades ago, some ATA members are probably more surprised that community energy is yet to take off here!

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There are a handful of groundbreaking community energy projects up and running today, and here are a few of the ways we are doing our bit to help more than 50 communities bring future energy projects into being.

C4CE

ATA is a founding partner and steering group member of the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE), alongside some stalwarts of the community energy sector. C4CE exists to empower and grow the community energy sector. The Coalition is moving from its formative stages to incorporate new members, with membership and governance arrangements being formalised as this goes to print. Find out more at www.c4ce.net.au.

With welcome support from ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency), C4CE is developing a national strategy for community energy. This work is being led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures and Community Power Agency, with ATA providing specialist input in areas such as energy policy, markets and regulations. Look out for the strategy, which will be released later this year.

In July, C4CE held the inaugural Community Energy Congress in Canberra, bringing together over 300 community energy supporters from across Australia, as well as international delegates. The event was a resounding success, and I think we will look back on the congress in coming years as a milestone for the community energy movement.

Getting a better deal for local generation

Our friends at Total Environment Centre (TEC) have been working hard to improve the incentives for generating energy that is sustainable, locally consumed, improves competition and minimises burden on electricity networks.

ATA is helping TEC’s work on virtual net metering as a member of the project steering group. We are also advising TEC, who, on behalf of a consortium of NSW Northern Rivers organisations, is on a quest to form a community energy retailer. With the spotlight shone on the poor environmental performance of most energy retailers (see www.bit.ly/ GP-TGEG), a community retailer will not only provide a more sustainable business model, but raise the bar for the integrity of the existing retail sector.

Directly engaging with communities

The support of the NSW Office for Environment and Heritage has been vital in allowing ATA to reach NSW communities and help them progress their energy projects.

Most recently we spent some time with the Cowra community (read more about their project here) and in October we’ll be presenting at the North Coast Energy Forum. Straight after that we’ll be travelling to central NSW to meet with local community energy proponents and speak at the AGMs of the Bathurst Community Climate Action Network and Central NSW Renewable Energy Cooperative (CENREC). With the support of Infigen, CENREC grew out of action that took shape three years ago when ATA ran a series of regional community energy workshops around NSW, so seeing how far they have developed is particularly rewarding.

Energy market advocacy and research

As ATA’s energy consumer advocate, my main role is to promote affordable, sustainable energy for all Australian energy consumers, through more demand-side participation, fairer pricing, better regulation and improved competition. ATA punches well above our weight in the energy policy ring, but with tens of billions of dollars behind incumbent businesses in the red corner, we have a long fight ahead of us. Of course, there are many more ways ATA is supporting community energy—from our groundbreaking research into community scale microgrids to Sunulator. Dive into the rest of ReNew 129 for a closer look at the many projects and resources in the works!

Craig Memery is an energy consumer advocate at the ATA and a specialist in community energy.

Read the full article in ReNew 129.