City News

Community owned solar farms surge into Sydney

Young Henry’s Brewery in Newtown. Source: Newtown grafitti (Flickr)

Solar farms funded by community members are making their way onto roofs of local businesses and public buildings in Sydney’s inner suburbs.

Young Henry’s bar in Newtown and the new International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney in Darling Harbour will be the sites of Sydney’s first community funded renewable energy projects.

The project involves sourcing a ‘host site’, such as the roof of a community building, and then members of the public invest money to fund the installation of solar panels.

The host site pays for electricity produced by these panels, and the money is paid back to the original community investors.

Today, 1 in 10 Australian homes have solar panels adorning their roofs, but in the high density areas of Sydney’s inner suburbs, many people simply do not have the roof space to install solar.

The volunteer-run organisation behind the solar project at Young Henry’s, Pingala, is run by Tom Nockolds, who said the project was helping Sydneysiders get involved in renewable energy.

“Renters and apartment dwellers, they actually can’t participate in the amazing solar rooftop revolution that is sweeping this country,” Mr Nockolds said.

“What community solar projects do is give people who live in apartments and rent the ability to invest some money and derive some financial return from that investment in a similar way that households can do,” he said.

Mr Nockolds said that this new energy trend is not isolated to Sydney, and that dozens of community energy groups are popping up all across Australia.

The ICC Sydney in Darling Harbour is due to be completed in late 2016 and is a much larger project than Young Henry’s.

David Lovell, General Manager of Darling Harbour Live said the solar panels would produce about five per cent of the energy required for the centre.

“This is the equivalent of powering more than 100 homes every year,” Mr Lovell said.

NSW Greens MP John Kaye said community energy systems are the way of the future.

“As we live more and more in multi-story dwellings and apartment buildings, to put your solar panels somewhere even if they’re not on your roof, is critical,” Mr Kaye said.

“It’s also about making the transition to a renewable energy future much more equitable, much fairer, so everyone can participate, not just those who own roof space,” he said.

Professor Tony Vassallo, a Sydney University specialist in electricity storage, told City Hub he expects to see this community model of electricity generation grow.

“Slowly initially but over time it will be quite a substantial part of the energy ecosystem in Australia and other countries,” Professor Vassallo said.

The emergence of community owned solar farms is particularly relevant in light of the privatisation of NSW’s electricity network which was passed through parliament in June.

Mr Kaye said if there isn’t opportunity for people to be direct owners of future electricity generation, NSW will become increasingly reliant on privately owned energy ‘monopolies’.

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