The Community Solar Toolkit is a collaborative project led by the Australian Energy Foundation (AEF) and seven key Victorian Community Solar Alliance (VCSA) organisations. The project successfully secured a $164,000 grant in 2017 as part of the first round of the Victorian Government’s New Energy Jobs Fund.
The Toolkit builds on the Victorian Government’s Guide to Community-Owned Renewable Energy and other key initiatives in this new and growing sector in Australia, by providing the practical tools needed to implement community solar projects. The scope of this project was designed to address significant gaps in resources and tools available to help scale the community solar sector at the implementation end – that is, getting community solar projects ‘shovel ready’ and ready for investment.
To make this project happen, AEF and the VCSA brought together groups from across regional Victoria and Melbourne to collaboratively develop these resources. AEF and the participating community solar organisations (CSOs) contributed over 1000 volunteer hours to deliver the project. The contributing CSOs are;
- Bendigo Sustainability Group
- Energy Innovation Co-operative
- Geelong Sustainability Group
- Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group
- Moreland Community Solar
- Surf Coast Energy Group
- Your Community Solar
Specifically the Community Solar Toolkit includes:
- Legal templates – standard legal document templates, such as contracts with roof hosts and investors. Available free to CSOs through the Portal.
- Community Solar Portal – collaboratively built ‘web portal’ to showcase CSOs and their projects, information about the sector, and crucially, help manage investment in projects.
- Websites for CSOs – website template that can be adapted by new CSOs. Fully compatible with the Community Solar Portal.
- reBOT (renewable energy Back Office Tool) – financial administration and investor management system designed to assist CSO’s scale up, run more projects simultaneously and reduce risk.
In addition, training was provided to the seven participating organisations in the use of these tools. Further training is planned for additional CSOs who want to utilise the services to deliver projects.
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The Victorian Community Solar Alliance (VCSA) is an unincorporated alliance of over 25 organisations committed to fostering a sustainable energy future that is led, owned, or operated by the community.
VCSA or simply the ‘Solar Alliance’ consists of community solar organisations (CSOs) from across Victoria who are working to develop community-based approaches to installing, generating, and distributing renewable energy, as well as removing barriers and helping to scale up the community energy sector.
The Solar Alliance was formed in 2015 to:
- Grow a strong and unified voice for community energy in Victoria
- Help secure policy change and seed funding to help stimulate the Victorian community energy sector
- Collaboratively respond to relevant Government enquiries and reviews
- Identify key barriers and solutions to help scale the community solar sector and provide ethical investment pathways for the clean energy transition
- Deliver key projects designed to fill gaps in the sector, such as the Community Solar Toolkit
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Community-owned renewable energy, or ‘community energy’ (CE) describes a group of people coming together to participate in, develop, deliver and benefit from a renewable energy resource or energy efficiency initiative. CE projects typically involve grassroots community members working together to initiate renewable energy projects that provide cascading benefits back in to the local community.
Every CE project is different and is developed to suit each community’s unique needs and context. Local communities can benefit from these types of projects in a number of ways as shown in the figure to the right, and can create positive dynamics with far-reaching effects across a local area, region and beyond.
Community solar is a form of community energy which typically utilises solar photovoltaic (solar PV) technology to generate clean energy for project partners and in many current models, a financial return for community-based investors.
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Types of Community Energy projects
Community energy projects come in many different forms and can vary based on technology, governance, size, funding and motivations. Some of the leading examples in Australia include:
- Supplying local renewable energy e.g. Hepburn Wind, RePower Shoalhaven, Lismore Community Solar, Bendigo Sustainability Group, Clearsky Solar, Geelong Sustainability Group
- Programs delivering energy advice, products and services e.g. Moreland Energy Foundation’s Positive Charge
- Local renewable energy and climate change strategies e.g. Totally Renewable Yackandandah, Zero-Net Energy Uralla, Moreland’s Zero Carbon Evolution
- Community owned electricity retailers e.g. Enova
The Community Solar Portal focuses on behind-the-meter solar PV projects as they are currently one of the most financially and technically viable options in the Australian context, easily scaled and achievable within a short time period.
Community solar organisations or CSOs take many forms in Australia, from ‘for-purpose’ social enterprises, to trading and non-profit co-operatives. These models are all designed to bring ownership of small to medium scale solar projects within the reach of local communities, while ensuring that a broad range of social benefits are created as a result.
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Community energy is relatively new to Australia, however over the past five years the sector has grown from a handful of operating projects to around 100 projects under development nationally and over 70 installed.
In Victoria, there are over 40 individual projects or communities developing models to enable greater community participation, empowerment and ownership of Australia’s rapidly transforming energy sector. The sector continues to show strong growth and the Community Solar Portal is designed to address key resource gaps and minimise risk to support continued development of the sector.
Since 2015, the Victorian Government has provided strong support for the development of the community energy sector through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and Sustainability Victoria. This includes:
- Grant programs – New Energy Jobs Fund and Climate Change Innovation Grants
- Information and resources – Guide to Community-Owned Renewable Energy for Victorians
- Pilot programs and other initiatives – Community Power Hubs, and Zero Net Energy Town Hepburn
Key community energy sector resources
Frontier Impact Group Community Energy Funding Toolkit– a comprehensive resource to assist community energy groups develop and deliver community energy projects, with a strong focus on behind-the-meter solar PV projects.
Coalition for Community Energy webinar series – videos on a range of community energy topics
Embark Wiki – online best-practice toolkit, offering information and advice on a wide range of community energy issues
Community Power Agency – resources, support, advocacy and research on community energy
New solar business models are being developed by many of the community solar organisations involved in this project, as well as broader Solar Alliance members and many other groups across the country. A key driver for many projects is to enable consumers who may not otherwise be able to put solar on their own roofs to access the benefits of distributed generation. These customers include businesses, apartment dwellers, renters and low-income households.
The Community Solar Portal showcases local projects that utilise the community investment model. Under this model, capital is raised by opening up investment to community investors with the expectation that member-shareholders will receive a modest return on their investment. Community solar projects are increasingly attracting funding through alternative methods such as community investment as there are a number of additional benefits including generating local economic activity and contributing to the clean energy transition.
The diagram below provides a high level example of a community investment model. This is a Power Purchase Agreement which involves the rooftop host entering a long-term contract with a community solar organisation to purchase electricity at an agreed rate. Investors receive a return on their investment through the sale of electricity.
There are a number of different community investment models available to community solar organisations to deliver projects. Frontier Impact Group and project partners have developed the Community Energy Funding Toolkit – a comprehensive resource to assist community energy groups develop and deliver community energy projects, with a strong focus on behind-the-meter solar PV projects. The Toolkit provides information on the types of funding available for community energy projects and guidance to increase the likelihood of securing funding for projects.
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