6 December, 2023
Community groups around Australia are taking on the shift to renewable energy, delivering local energy projects with outstanding socioeconomic and environmental benefits, including raising up to $87m to fund their own projects.
These are the key findings of a report published today (Wednesday) by Community Power Agency, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Technology Sydney and University of Melbourne.
The report makes eight recommendations, including calling on all state and territory governments to unlock 100MW of community energy projects by 2028.
55 groups, roughly half the Australian community energy sector, were surveyed about the largely volunteer-driven projects, which include solar, battery storage, energy efficiency, electric cars, microgrids and wind turbines.
The researchers asked groups about projects they’d been working on in the past 12 months and found:
- Groups had raised $86.8 million in funding for community energy infrastructure;
- The projects had produced over 19,000 MWh of clean energy - enough for 2,800 homes for a year; and
- The projects had avoided 13,947 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent, which is the equivalent of removing 7,748 cars from the road for a year.
Since 2015, there has been the establishment of at least 30 new community energy groups and the sector currently has a strong estimated supporter base of 38,000 people.
The report found people involved in energy projects were primarily motivated by action on climate change and emissions reductions. This was followed by a desire for local participation in the renewable energy transition and for increased energy reliability and self-sufficiency.
Kristy Walters, Director of Community Power Agency said: “It’s remarkable that these energy groups have achieved so much - funding their projects through the community, with minimal government support.
“This is the low hanging fruit of decarbonising our grid. Communities want to be involved in their own energy generation and the projects we have highlighted demonstrate how important this is for community buy-in.”
“Community energy projects are vital to democratising our energy system and in the process they are enabling many other benefits at the local level.”
Co-author Dr Jonathan Marshall, a researcher from Climate, Society and Environment Research Centre (CSERC) at the University of Technology Sydney said: "These findings show the growth and interest in community renewable energy, not only as a source of energy, but as a source of local development and resilience. It also illustrates the difficulties that volunteer organisations face, especially when the regulations seem geared for large scale commercial developments."
Despite their achievements, community energy groups face challenges such as a lack of funding, navigating complex regulatory systems and volunteer burnout.
The report emphasises the need for targeted government support to overcome these obstacles including:
- Dedicated and ongoing grant funding for community energy projects and capacity building hubs;
- The establishment of a Community Energy Collaboration Network to support community energy groups to navigate challenges and share knowledge; and
- The establishment of community feed-in tariffs for mid-scale community energy projects of 6-7c premium above PPA/wholesale rate for 10 years.
Copy of the report available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XbHVzzRYwZfLit64Ej4wlGjFVAxGpSj_/view?usp=drive_link
Media Contact: Jacqui Street 0498 188 528 / email@example.com
Case studies available for interview:
The South Coast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) - Katherine Maxwell
Location: Southern NSW, Moruya
SHASA is a community group based in the Eurobodalla, delivering a trifecta of social, environmental and economic benefits. After experiencing the devastating 2019-20 black summer bushfires, they developed Eurobodalla SHASA Heatwave and Bushfire Havens Strategic Plan. This plan included upgrading buildings to provide a refuge for more vulnerable members of the community, during extreme weather events. This included the provision of independent power systems (solar and batteries) so that refuges can continue to operate when the grid goes down. This project has so far installed a total of 58.2kW of solar panels and 60kW of battery storage across six community-owned facilities in the Eurobodalla, which are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 75 tonnes per year and slash electricity bills by over $10,000 annually. The installation of solar and batteries also reduces the day to day operational costs of these facilities which are critical to the social fabric of the Eurobodalla.
Katherine Maxwell said: “SHASA congratulates the Community Power Agency for publishing a detailed report that outlines the amazing work of community energy groups and the positive impact that financial support from all tiers of government, and from private investment, can have. There is so much untapped potential to assist with the transition to renewables and to low cost energy for all. We encourage community organisations to plan for a brighter future together.”
Geni Energy - Sally Hunter
Location: North West NSW, Narrabri
Geni Energy has installed battery and solar projects around Narrabri, helping locals save on power bills and keep the lights on during blackouts.
Sally Hunter said: “ Our region has no REZ (NSW Renewable Energy Zone) and no transition plan for our coal workers, so this is left up to community energy groups such as Geni.Energy.
We are leading by example in the northwest of NSW, helping locals install solar and battery and developing our Narrabri Community Battery.
Our region has oodles of land, sun and a little too much drought that is perfect for maximising the renewable energy opportunities, especially when it can be driven locally. We need these benefits to stay local and developers need this too in order to secure social licence for projects."
Inner West Community Energy - Gavin Gilchrist
Location: Inner West Sydney,
Gavin Gilchrist said: “In six years we’ve built a group that’s helped over 330 households install rooftop solar, we’ve helped with household batteries and delivered a number of community solar projects across Sydney’s Inner West. Now we’re helping households get off gas. It all proves the community is so far ahead of governments when it comes to understanding the need for rapid climate action.”
Totally Renewable Yackandandah - Juliette Millbank
Location: Regional Victoria, Yackandandah
Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY) is a volunteer group working towards the goal of powering their Victorian town with 100% renewable energy. Recent projects include installing the town’s first electric vehicle charging station.
Juliette Millbank said: “Totally Renewable Yackandandah has grasped the opportunities to add value to our community with improved community facilities, reduced costs, and community resilience via backup power options. All the while reducing carbon emissions and bringing our community along. We've done this almost entirely using volunteers while facing the challenges of sourcing funding and technical expertise.
"There is so much more we need to do and we wholeheartedly support the report recommendations. Our projects add enormous value to Yackandandah and give locals greater understanding about energy, the things they can do and the benefits that can be realised.”
Community Power Agency was established in 2011 and is a not-for-profit organisation with expertise that enables and advocates for community energy. We support communities across Australia to engage in and benefit from the transition to renewable energy.
Jacqui Street 0498 188 528