First, it was the local bowling club. Then the churches. In the Shoalhaven, community solar power is on the rise.
Renewable energy is expected to supply almost 60 per cent of Australian electricity by 2040, according to research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which found the fall in renewable energy prices would drive a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
One community in NSW has already reaped the benefits of an early move to community-owned renewable energy.
Non-profit Repower Shoalhaven installed Australia’s first investor-owned community solar project on the roof of the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling Club last year.
Repower raised $145,000 for the project in just two weeks, with 80 per cent of the cost coming from “mum and dad” investors.
The company has just completed its second community solar investment project in the Illawarra region on Figtree Anglican Church and Nowra City Church.
Head of Repower Shoalhaven Chris Cooper said demand for renewable energy is growing as it becomes cheaper.
“People want clean energy and they want secure investments and previously there was no real opportunity to do that so we created a system where the community pays for the solar power system and the business repays community investors via a power purchase agreement.
The Repower solar financing model allows local businesses to purchase community-owned renewable energy at a cheaper rate than grid power.
Figtree Anglican Church member and University of Wollongong Sustainable Building Research Centre masters student Daniel Jones said community owned solar had significantly reduced the overall electricity costs associated with running the church.
“Community solar gets us over the hurdle of not having enough capital to get solar, allowing us in partnership with Repower to buy community owned electricity,” he said.
“It is fundamental to our beliefs that we care for this world and for people. Solar energy, being such a win-win, is a really smart local response to a global problem. The Repower project maintains and fosters a connection between local investors and local businesses, so it was a common-sense decision for our church to make.”
In Germany, where the concept of community owned solar power originated, more than 50 per cent of renewable-energy projects are community owned. As the economics of renewable energies are increasingly shown to be viable, entrepreneurs like Chris Cooper believe people will speak with their wallets.
“We are witnessing the greatest transformation to our electricity sector since electrification and it’s up to us, the people, to decide whether we want to claim a stake in that,” he said.
“We have a golden opportunity, as we transition to cleaner energy systems, to return the power to the people through citizen owned renewable energy and that is really the motivational force behind my work.”
Read the article on The Age.