The Community Energy Congress held in Canberra on June 16-17 brought together about 350 people from around Australia – from Mareeba in North Queensland to Perth in Western Australia. Many of those attending had experience with community energy projects while others were anxious to learn how to advance them in their own areas.
Community energy projects take many forms. Many involve energy generation from sources such as wind, the sun or biomass. Some involve other tools such as energy efficiency, energy storage or demand management. Some community projects involve connection to the grid while others are stand-alone.
"Community energy projects are collaborately-spirited, as well as being commercially-driven and environmentally beneficial. They contribute to a bigger picture of regional development, action on climate change and progress towards sustainability, community empowerment and energy advocacy." (p. 4, Community Energy Congress Program)
One of the most inspiring addresses at the congress was given by Arno Zengle, Mayor of the German village of Wildpoldsried, who spoke about his village's renewable energy achievements
This Bavarian village, with a population of around 2500 people, is situated 100 km from Munich. It produces more than four times its energy requirements through a mix of renewable technologies. The excess electricity is fed into the grid, providing the village with an income of around 5 million euros a year.
The move to renewables started in the late 1990s when the mayor and council engaged in consultation with the local community about what was possible for the village in the next 20 years.
Photo-voltaics are a major contributor to Wildpoldsried's power generation. Solar panels have been installed on public buildings and on around 250 private residences. Another important source is wind. The seven wind turbines were financed by local citizens and there are plans for several more.
Other power sources are biogas digesters and three small hydro systems.
In addition the village has embraced energy efficiency with incentives provided to residents who incorporate passive solar design in their houses.
Examples like Wildpoldsried will inspire many of those who attended the congress to move forward with their plans to promote community energy.
- Leonie Blain
This article was published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Daily Examiner on June 23, 2014.
More information about the congress and the organisers is available on the Coalition for Community Energy website