Renters and low-income earners can often feel they are stuck with high electricity bills because they are locked out of opportunities for solar power. The growth of community solar energy projects in Australia, however, may be offering a solution.
A community solar project is one where solar energy is shared around a community. There is no one-size model for these types of projects.
They might for instance consist of solar farms where solar panels are installed on the rooftop of a large local building.
Another example is that of a solar garden, which sells solar power to customers through the grid.
Community solar bulk-buy projects that harness group-buying power can also provide opportunities for residents within a community to access to solar power.
Community solar energy projects
Different community solar energy projects may also have different objectives. These could include profit-maximising for investors, reducing energy bills for participants, meeting emissions reduction goals, or all of these together.
Australia has dozens of community energy projects either in place or under development. Here are some examples.
Goulburn community solar farm
The Goulburn community solar farm will be built this year and will consist of more than 5,000 solar panels. The farm will sell energy generated from the panels on to a larger group or an energy retailer. This in turn will be sold on to the community.
The solar farm should have the capacity to power 400 homes. Each investor in the project will own at least one solar panel. Profits generated from the project will also be kept in the local community.
Pingala solar co-operative Newtown NSW
In another project, a brewery in Newtown Sydney leases a solar energy system, but will own it outright at the end of the lease.
One hundred and fifteen solar panels were installed on the rooftop of Young Henry’s Brewery through finance raised in the community. Investors in the project can expect to receive a return of 5 to 7 per cent on their investment.
Community solar projects can offer many benefits:
- Reduced energy bills for participants.
- Opportunity to earn a profit on investment in the project.
- Improved energy security for the community.
- Reduced pressure on the national grid.
- Opportunity for people normally locked out of solar to access renewable energy.
Solar for community organisations and churches
Community organisations, not-for-profits and church organisations may also be able to access reduced-cost solar.
Price reductions can be achieved by negotiating discounts on grid-connected or off-grid solar systems.
Organisations should also look into taking advantage of government rebates on solar installations through the Renewable Energy Target while they are still available in Australia.