On the way towards zero net energy

curtain-making workshop

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.

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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