Business model options
Despite the challenging energy market and regulatory context there are a number of different community renewable energy models operating in the Australia. Behind the meter community solar models are the most viable and currently successful models we know of that will work in the current context. Noting of course that each model has specific requirements, so may not work in your community, or may need to be adapted to suit your local context.
In the National Community Energy Strategy the C4CE provides an overview of the different models and tools to help you to set up your own project. Find an introduction and overview and case studies of behind the meter models here and the Community Solar Projects Decision Guide here.
Multi-household models of community energy
These models aggregate households to deliver sustainable energy solutions. Examples of such models include solar bulk-buys which were popular around 2009 and the Moreland Energy Foundation has developed a rates-backed solar model for low income households (Solar Savers Program) with the City of Darebin in Victoria. Read more about Solar Savers Program here.
Social Housing Solar
In NSW the South Coast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) and Repower Coffs have both secured funding from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage through their Growing Community Energy Program to develop and pilot a new model of community energy that directly benefits low-income households. The specific approach taken by both groups is to work with social and community housing providers (CHPs), to help them install solar and possibly energy efficiency to the benefit of their tenants. Community Power Agency and Chris Cooper have supported both community groups to identify a number of potential models for delivering a solar program for CHP tenants. Those options are discussed in the first project report ‘Low-income Community Solar – Options Assessment South Coast Solar Saver‘, which you can find here. We have also developed an implementation plan for the delivery of the solar program. This plan sets out the roles, work-streams and tasks required to implement a solar program for the tenants of CHPs, timeframes are also suggested. The ‘Social Housing Solar Implementation Plan’ can be found here.
Community Investment Models
These models are where an organisation develops a sustainable energy project and raise funds through opening up the project to community investors, on the expectation that these investors will receive a certain return on their investment. Examples of a community solar investment model is the Repower Shoalhaven model.
Repower Shoalhaven is a member based not-for-profit association founded in May 2013, which aims to develop community renewable energy projects for the benefit of local people, groups and businesses. They have developed a very successful CRE model with 2 projects at a total capacity of 129 kW operating and one more project with close to 100 kW to be launched on May 18th 2016. The projects are set up by using the legal structure of proprietary limited company Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), which is based on the Difference Incubator’s (TDI) small-scale community solarfarm model. Check out their website and read more about their model here.
Lismore Solar Farm
A more recent example of a community investment model is the partnership between the City of Lismore and Farming the Sun Inc.. This project demonstrates the great potential for local council and community collaboration. Lismore City Council and Farming the Sun have now completed negotiations to build two solar farms at the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre and East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant. To overcome site limitations a truly innovative solution with a floating solar system was found, that is now going to be used for the East Lismore Solarfarm. Community investment will provide a loan to fund the build of the solar farms, which will be owned by the Council and they will use all electricity generated on site. Check out their website here and read more about their model here.
Commercial-community partnership models
In this approach the community group partners with a commercial energy developer (or similar organisation) to deliver a community energy project. This can result in duel ownership between the community and the developer. An example is Clear Sky Solar.
Clear Sky Solar
Another very successful model has been developed by Clear Sky Solar. This organisation has already 11 projects with more than 425 kW installed. The community group emerged as local chapter of the Clean Energy for Eternity Association established during the heights of the climate movement in 2006. In their model, community investors form a trust which then provides a loan to a solar company who owns and operations the solar PV installation on behalf of the host site (eg. the Boggrabri Pub). Check out their website and learn more about their model here.
Donation/community organisation models
One of the most successful models in Australia is a donation-based approach. This model involves a community raising funds through donations (either using a crowdfunding platform or more traditional fundraising) to install renewable energy or undertake energy efficiency measures. Typically, the host site and beneficiary of this model is a community organisation such as a school, surf-lifesaving club, fire station etc.
For example Repower Shoalhaven had its first success was the decision to start small and to keep the momentum by starting with a simpler and easier to deliver donation-based project. Donations from the local community funded a 9 kW solar PV array for the Kangaroo Valley Community Centre and Ambulance Station, just a year after the organisation kicked-off. Read more here.
Yet, the most thriving approach is the Quick Win project model from CORENA (Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia Inc.). As of April 2016, more than $120,000 were donated by CORENA’s supporters, enabling the installation of 11 solar projects with a total capacity of 74.25 kW. Two more projects are currently in the pipeline. Their model is based on voluntary contributions of any amount from citizens to provide a zero interest loan to install solar PV on and undertaken energy efficiency at a community organisation’s building. The loan repayments are used to fund even more community energy projects. Learn more about their model here and current projects here.