In ‘Community energy’ Category


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!


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!


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

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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!


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.


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

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 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.

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Community solar: energy from the ground up

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With support resources now readily available, Taryn Lane from Embark explains how individuals, groups and businesses can work together and benefit from setting up community solar projects.

Already a mainstream model internationally in countries such as Denmark, USA, Germany and Scotland, community solar is about to hit Australia in a big way. There are around 50 active projects in Australia and it is a tangible pathway for all communities—whether they be urban, regional or remote—to participate in transforming their energy supply.


Community solar can take on a myriad of identities, depending on a community’s exact needs and opportunities. From community bulk-buy rooftop models, through to small crowd-funded systems, up to more sizable solar parks, they provide real opportunities for installation efficiencies and more inclusive ownership.

Several models of community-owned solar projects feasible within Australia’s current legislative and energy market boundaries will be explored in this article. Although we can learn from international models, we also have unique restrictions in the Australian landscape that we all need to navigate. Our aim at Embark is to both create innovative business models and collate from the broader sector what’s been learnt from the first generation of systems—thereby accelerating the uptake of, and social licence for, renewable energy in communities in Australia.

Why community solar?

The move to a low-carbon economy requires a magnitude of capital that charity alone cannot provide: community investment with reasonable returns will provide a necessary part of the solution.

There is still a significant portion of the community who can’t invest in solar technology. This includes renters, apartment owners, those living in homes with shaded roofs or heritage overlays, and those who can’t afford to install a residential system on their own home.

Community solar projects enable neighbourhoods to develop and own their own renewable energy infrastructure. It answers the calls for social equity for solar in Australia, as renters, apartment dwellers and low-income households can have the opportunity to make a direct investment in solar PV.

Shared ownership schemes will soon drive significant growth in the medium-scale solar space. A business installing 100 kW on a factory roof will result in the same abatement as a community that installs 100 kW in the same location, but the latter has the opportunity to engage a hundred (or more) community members on an ongoing basis.

Read the full article in ReNew 129.

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Biomass potential in rural communities

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This community energy project is not just about energy, it’s also about improving agricultural practices and creating a new industry—definitely a trickier proposition, but potentially more rewarding, writes Robyn Deed.

Not that long ago, say about 60 years ago, before we moved to a more centralised grid, it used to be the norm in regional Australia for country towns to manage their own power supply. Residents in Cowra, 300 kilometres west of Sydney in NSW, are exploring options that could reinstate that local control, and at the same time bring new industries to the area.


CLEAN (Cowra Low Emissions Action Network), a local group of sustainability advocates, is working on a pilot system to run a portion of the town of Cowra on a microgrid using energy produced from biomass, and start up a bioenergy regional hub.

The proposal has gained broad support— from industry, the council, locals and farmers. The proponents believe it could provide a way of improving sustainable agriculture practices and reducing reliance on the grid, potentially decreasing costs for the local community.

Architect and local Dylan Gower, one of the people involved in initiating and developing the proposal, says that community engagement is particularly important for this type of project.

“It’s a community energy project that relies on creating a new industry around what’s already there, and in some ways that’s more complex than importing in renewable technologies such as solar and wind,” says Dylan.

The ‘what’s already there’ is the resource stream for a biomass-based plant. There are two streams that the proposal is considering as input, one of ‘dry’ waste from agriculture and the other from ‘wet’ municipal waste, such as green waste and waste water.

The latter is one reason that the local council is behind the project: pre-treatment of waste water by a biomass system could reduce the running costs of the local (newly built) waste water treatment plant, which currently has high energy needs—and would also yield energy in the form of biogas to run the plant.

In this mixed farming community with intensive cropping of canola and wheat, plus dairy and poultry, there’s also a lot of residual material from agriculture that could feed into a biomass plant.

Dylan resists calling the residual material ‘waste’, as much of the agricultural by-products are already reused. For example, the stubble from canola or wheat production (the two intensively farmed crops in the area) is currently left on the soil as mulch or used to create compost.

“That is something we’re discussing with farmers,” he says: whether there is higher value in using the stubble as compost or mulch (as is done currently), or in using it in the biomass process to generate biogas and biofertiliser.

The feasibility of a pilot system to power an industrial estate in Cowra on biogas is currently being investigated.

Read the full article in ReNew 129.