Saturday, 4 January 2014

Community solar - energy of the future?





Update 20 January 2014*
Classified as: project updates - information, advocacy


Solar panels on South Melbourne Market roof - reproduced from LIVE website
 LIVE community power (solar) project:
"South Melbourne Market's new roof was completed in December 2012. The City of Port Phillip, who own the market, installed 136 solar panels. However there is room for 1000 more panels. LIVE is organising a project that will enable members of the community to have a financial interest in these 1000 panels. We are calling the project LIVE Community Power.
So if you rent your home, or own or rent an apartment, and can't install solar panels on your roof, then these community owned solar panels might be of interest to you.
It also might interest people who own their home, and already have solar panels, but who would like more. Or maybe you own a heritage home, and your north facing roof can be seen from the street, or your roof is shaded by a big tree, then your panels could be on the roof of the market."
For more information see LIVE community power

And an interesting story from RenewEconomy about crowd-funding community solar:
"  By on 23 September 2013
A clean tech expert is hoping to tap into crowd-funding and community ownership models to help install solar energy and address the soaring costs of dirty fossil fuels in remote Western Australian communities.
Peter Hansford of Regional Cleantech Solutions, recently hosted a community solar forum at Notre Dame University in Broome. It attracted  110 people and $120,000 in pledges for community solar projects. ..."
To read the whole story see Crowd-funding could solve energy poverty in remote townships.

I imagine crowd-funding could support community solar projects in a variety of locations.

Community solar projects include those projects that are owned by members of a particular community or community organisations, and those run or funded by governments, businesses or non-government organisations to provide solar power to people who wouldn't otherwise have access to it, including people on low incomes.

One of the great benefits of community solar is that it offers an opportunity for people who can't have their own solar panels - whether because of low income, because they're renting, because they own a flat but there isn't enough roof space or the owners' corporation won't allow it, or because their roof is shaded or doesn't have the right orientation, and so on - a chance to buy in to solar power generation.

This is important from the perspective of this research project, because it's about social justice as much as sustainability. As such, I recognise that it may be difficult for some very low income groups (eg people on NewStart) to get involved with community owned solar projects, but I think the projects mentioned below would welcome ideas on how they could engage low income groups. I urge people to advocate to them where relevant, and to contact me if you would like support in doing this. There are also other possible options, including NILS (No Interest Loans Schemes), that can help, discussed later in this post.

Another important benefit, as I understand it, of community solar is that it is often generated and used within a limited (local) area, so there aren't large transmission costs.

Live (Locals Into Victoria's Environment) has a project to put community owned solar panels on the roof of the South Melbourne market. The Live website also provides a list of community owned solar projects throughout Australia

The Moreland Community Solar project is a partnership project between Moreland Energy Foundation (MELF) and Climate Action Moreland. The most recent brief update I have been able to find on it is on the Moreland Council website, here in July 2013. From what I have heard there is a lot of enthusiasm but also a lot of bureaucratic and regulatory challenges to meet.

Two other projects in Victoria which seem to be relatively advanced are Yarra Community Solar and Portland Community Solar.  All the projects, however, seem to face considerable challenges in getting from concept stage to power generation stage.

It's often mentioned that the key model for community owned power generation in Victoria is Hepburn Wind, which took about seven years to get get to power generation stage (2004-11) and came close to breaking even financially last year. If the carbon price is repealed this year, alternative energy projects will face greater financial challenges, as well as the many administrative hurdles they already face.

As well as community owned solar projects, there are also solar projects by government departments or commercial solar providers working with community members and people on low incomes to improve housing sustainability and reduce energy costs. These include initiatives in Windsor, Horsham and Carlton  by the Victorian Department of Human Services.

Some solar providers offer low interest or no interest deals on solar power  which could be useful to low income earners. No Interest Loans Schemes (NILS) can also be used by people receiving CentreLink benefits to purchase solar panels, for example through the Home Energy Saver Scheme provided by Good Shepherd. Potentially this could also include buying into a community owned solar project.

There are also solar projects in Indigenous communities and in rural and remote areas. There have been some problems with early projects, particularly in terms of reliability and maintenance, however this project in Mornington Island, to reduce costs in the local community run supermarket, illustrates the benefits for communities.

This community solar low income residential project in Colorado, USA, may also be of interest.

I urge all health and community organisations to consider supporting community solar projects, particularly for low income groups, if they are not already doing so. I would also be interested to hear from any that are already doing so.

(*This is an updated version of the very brief post on community solar which I did early in the New Year. I've changed the name to better reflect the growing content as I gather more information.)

1 comment:

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