Enova Community's first social access solar garden has successfully distributed it's first year of benefits to the tune of $5,700 to community organisations and social housing tenants. This is the all-important proof of concept needed to help in the task of attracting more support in the form of funding and regulatory changes, to get more solar gardens off the ground!
At the same time, the latest 2021 Energy Consumers Australia survey results show that an unprecedented number of Australians want access to solar gardens and community batteries, and don't think it's fair that renters miss out on solar benefits.
The Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey, carried out by Essential Research for Energy Consumers Australia, reveals strong demand from Australian consumers for responses to the nation’s energy challenges that prioritise local and community-driven projects, assets and resources.
The findings also reflect a clear desire from Australians for governments to play their part in ensuring the benefits of solar power and storage can be extended to all. This is where solar gardens enter the picture.
Diagram of Enova's social access solar garden showing the solar array and the flow of financial benefits.
Energy Consumers Australia CEO Lynne Gallagher said:
“The fact that so many Australians feel positively about these ideas suggests more needs to be done by governments and industry to accelerate the entry of such schemes into the market.”
“The rise of rooftop solar in Australia has been a world-leading success,” she said. “But we
know the benefits have not been equally available to all. More than a third of Australian households
are currently locked out of accessing rooftop solar because they are renting, live in an apartment or
do not have a roof that’s suitable."
After more than a decade of consumers rushing to add rooftop solar systems, the survey finds many Australians are beginning to think more flexibly about who owns energy generating and storage assets, as well as where they are located and how they are managed.
Many consumers are saying they want more options and more creative thinking about how they and their neighbours might generate and store energy as we head towards a net-zero future.
New questions included in the December survey indicate appetite is strong among consumers for new products, services and technical solutions that offer community-driven responses to the clean energy needs of Australians.
• More than half of all consumers (55%) said they were interested in buying power from a local community solar garden.
• 71% of family households expressed interest in doing so.
• 43% of household consumers said initiatives such as solar gardens should be supported by government investment.
• 57% of those surveyed said they were interested in shared or community batteries, while 69% of family households expressed interest in them.
• 43% of consumers surveyed believe that governments should subsidise community batteries
Enova has proven it works - with flexible thinking and the right partners, but more funding & support are needed!
Enova Community (our not-for-profit arm) installed a 35.5 kilowatt solar array on the roof top of North Coast Community Housing's (NCCH) offices in Lismore in December 2019. The Enova Community social access solar garden was achieved in partnership with NCCH and with funding from Enova, NCCH, Community Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimby (COREM). This also came on the back of research conducted in collaboration between University of Technology Sydney and Community Power Agency.
Enova's social access solar garden 35.5 kilowatt array being installed on the roof of North Coast Community Housing Lismore.
The intention was to pass the financial benefits from the solar generated, on to tenants and community organisations through applying a credit to their electricity bills.
As the project moved forward some barriers were discovered in achieving this. A flexible and innovative approach by the parties involved enabled the financial benefits to be distributed.
This resulted in the four community organisations receiving a credit on their Enova electricity bills, while the social housing tenants receive a reduction in their rent, equivalent to what the bill credit would have been.
"In financial year 2021 alone, we’ve provided over $4,700 to low-income households from the solar garden, and over $990 to the four community groups," said Felicity Stening, Enova's Managing Director.
"It's an amazing thing to be able to provide credits onto people's bills that comes from solar-generated on someone else's roof.
"The key benefit and purpose of a solar garden is providing access to renewables to the approximately one third of households locked out, like renters and others who can't have solar on their own roof. It's an innovative solution to renewables access barriers," said Felicity.
Each of the households who were part of the scheme received a credit of about $580 to the their rent in financial year 2021 and each of the community groups received almost $250 off their electricity bills. These benefits will continue to flow in the years ahead.
The completed solar garden installation
First Community-Owned Solar Garden now on its way - You can be a member!!
We've since been selected as the retailer for the Haystacks Solar Garden.
The Haystacks solar garden is a much larger project, with a membership based and cooperative structure.
People who can't have solar on their own rooftops (Like renters and apartment dwellers) will be able to purchase “plots” in a 1 Megawatt solar garden - an installation large enough to supply power to about 333 homes.
Customers, who can be anywhere in NSW, will pay about $4,000 to $4,200 to own a plot and receive credits for their electricity bills. The solar array will be community-owned in a cooperative structure.
The project is in the final stages of getting financial approvals and grid connections completed, says Kristy Walters from the Community Power Agency, which is a partner in the project.
"We're hoping to go ahead and start construction next year," she said.
Some of the Haystacks Solar Garden team, anticipating construction commencing in first quarter 2022.
Proof of concept - now more support needed
The Enova x NCCH solar garden outcomes are crucial evidence that through strong community partnerships, innovation and a willingness to problem-solve, social model solar gardens can work and can benefit solar gardeners.
Part of Enova Community Energy's reason for being is to enable community energy initiatives so that local communities can be empowered to generate, store and share their own renewable energy. Making solar gardens a viable option for communities needs more input from government and philanthropic sources - enabling solar to benefit those who can't have it on their own rooftop.
Solar gardens have taken off in the United States because of supportive regulatory frameworks. "They've not yet taken off here in Australia partly due to regulations that have not kept up with new ownership models," Felicity said.
Most people responding to the Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey said it was unfair renters and those living in apartments could not access solar.
A sizeable majority backed the government installing solar and batteries in community housing and incentivising landlords and apartment complex owners to do the same.
Almost half of households said initiatives such as solar gardens should be supported by government investment.
This points to a change in the way many Australians are thinking about solar and energy in general, ECA chief executive officer Lynne Gallagher said.
Willingness to cooperate and innovate: Enova Community Energy Managing Director Felicity Stening and NCCH CEO John McKenna.
- Read more about the Energy Consumers Australia survey in their blog here.
- Want solar but can't have it on your roof? Join Haystacks Solar Garden Coop as a member.
- Learn more about solar gardens here and here.
- Register for Enova Community's 2022 Solar Garden Online Q&A Event here.
- Check out the Solar for All Campaign.
- Find your local community energy group and learn more about community energy here and here.
- Support the Local Power Plan and the Climate Act.
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