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THE Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull may be talking up the future of “clean coal” but ordinary Australians are putting their money elsewhere.
The Community Power Agency has produced a snapshot of community-owned energy projects and found Australians had financed more than 30 wind and solar projects to the tune of almost $24 million in the last six years.
The projects are so popular, they are being funded within hours of being offered in many cases.
Almost 8000kW of renewable energy projects has been funded using the community-ownership model — enough to power a small town.
Projects have included $1.4 million raised to install 2000 panels on top of Sydney’s International Convention Centre, $180,000 for 600 panels at Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre and $119,800 raised to install 396 panels on top of the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling and Recreation Club.
ClearSky is one of the bodies helping to connect businesses with Australians willing to help them fund their solar panels.
Today, a massive 228 kW solar system will be switched on at Bakers Maison, an industrial bakers located in Revesby in Sydney’s west, thanks to $390,000 raised from 20 investors in just six hours.
ClearSky founding director Dr Christina said high demand from investors meant it took only a few hours to fully fund such projects with applications coming from every state in Australia.
“Everyday Australians want to invest their money ethically and they are jumping at the opportunity to help businesses go solar,” Dr Kirsch said.
The business pays community investors for the solar power it uses over a seven to 10 year term.
The electricity is much cheaper than power offered on the mainstream market but is still high enough to cover the original sum invested, plus a return of about 7 per cent for investors. When the term ends, the business owns the system.
Sydney resident Monica Ahn, 28, was one of 150 people who raised $17,500 in just nine minutes to install a 29.9kW solar farm on the roof of the Young Henry’s brewery in Sydney’s inner west.
Ms Ahn spent $250 on buying 250 shares in the Pingala project, which is expected to make a return on investment of about 7-8 per cent.
But Ms Ahn told news.com.au she wasn’t motivated by financial incentives, it was more to do with supporting renewable energy.
“It’s a really clever business model and got the community involved, that’s why I was interested,” she said.
But it’s not just small projects that are being funded. In Western Australia, $6.1 million was raised to build two wind turbines in Denmark and another $9.9 million was raised for two turbines in Daylesford, Victoria.
Community Power Agency founding director Nicky Ison said the majority of recent community projects were financed within hours of going out to the community, because investor demand was outstripping supply.
Ms Ison said there were more than 90 community energy groups across the country preparing to build and run their own projects, and if governments invested a little of their own capital in supporting them then the sector could more than treble.
“Australians are saying loudly and clearly — we want to invest in renewable energy in this country and we want to invest in our owm communities,” she said.
“This means that jobs and investment stay local and communities have ownership over their own power again.
“We think for these reasons community energy is shaping as a major disrupter of our energy system.”
The agency says governments can help kick-start new projects by building a network of support hubs across the country. These hubs would offer legal and technical advice to local volunteer groups and help them cut through red tape that’s stalling many projects.”
Overall Australians are now generating enough solar power to light up 1.3 million average households — nearly all the homes in Melbourne.
Figures released last week showed there was six gigawatts of solar power installed across the country, with the “sunshine state” of Queensland leading the charge.
Australian Photovoltaic Institute chair Dr Renate Egan said Aussie homeowners, businesses and large-scale solar farms had all contributed to an extra 1GW of solar being added to the grid over the past year.
“Solar power now makes up 11 per cent of our country’s total electricity generation capacity with more solar added to the system in 2016 than any other fuel type,” he said.
“These numbers are so big they can be difficult to picture, but to put 6GW into perspective – that is twice the capacity of Australia’s largest coal-fired power station, Loy Yang in Victoria.”
As of April 2017 there was a total of 1.67 million PV solar installations in Australia, covering 21 per cent of suitable rooftops, which is the highest penetration of rooftop solar in the world.
In total, these solar installations collectively generate 8400 GW/hr of energy each year, which meets approximately 3.3 per cent of Australian demand.