In 2015 the Federal Coalition and Labor parties agreed to a 2020 renewable energy target of 33,000 gigawatt-hours for Australia. This would contribute around 23% of the nation’s energy requirements.
In order to reach the target the Clean Energy Council, the industry body for clean energy, estimates that a further 6000 megawatts of renewable energy generation will be needed – which would require the investment of about $10 billion.
While investment in large-scale projects should provide the major part of the increase, there is the potential for community energy to assist in reaching the target.
What is community energy?
According to Nicky Ison and Ed Langham (University of Technology, Sydney): “Community energy projects are those in which a community comes together to develop, deliver and benefit from sustainable energy. They can involve energy supply projects such as renewable energy installations and storage, and energy reduction projects such as energy efficiency and demand management. Community energy can even include community-based approaches to selling or distributing energy."
Community energy is an important contributor to the national energy requirements in Germany, Denmark and Britain. All of these countries are way ahead of Australia in the generation of renewable energy and community energy projects.
In 2015 Germany reached 32% renewable energy. It has a target of 40% to 45% by 2025. It has around 850 energy cooperatives and almost half of its installed capacity is owned by households, communities and farmers.
Community energy projects are being developed in Australia.
Hepburn Wind is an example of a project that has been in existence for some years. Established in 2007, it is the nation’s first community wind farm. Located at Leonards Hill about 100 km north west of Melbourne it is a 4.1 megawatt operation with two turbines which produce enough energy for over 2000 homes.
Another example is Repower Shoalhaven in the Nowra district of NSW. Its first project was a 99 kilowatt community solar system installed on the roof of the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling and Recreation Club. This project was 20% funded by the bowling club and 80% by community shareholders.
In addition to communities becoming involved in renewable energy generation, the first community renewable energy retailer - Enova Energy - is setting up in the NSW Northern Rivers area and should be commencing its retail operation in the next month or so.
In recent years there has been increasing interest in community energy in Australia. The Coalition for Community Energy has further information on its development.