LATEST: New study shows solar gardens can offer every home access to affordable solar power
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Social Access Solar Gardens can provide access to the benefits of clean, renewable energy for the one third of Australians who rent, live in apartments or live in low income housing.
Between February and November 2018 this collaborative research project progressed five prototype Social Access Solar Gardens to the point where the prototype teams could decide whether to go on to implement the projects, and identify the conditions needed for success.
The $555,000 project is a collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF) and the Community Power Agency, with multiple partners around NSW, Queensland and Victoria. The project was funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
Download the summary report
Scroll to download other project resources, such as legal templates, market research and a financial assessment tool.
In Australia, 1.8 million households now enjoy the benefits of clean, cheap energy produced from solar panels installed on their roofs. Unfortunately, not every household has a sunny roof suitable for the installation of solar panels. These 'locked out' customers might live in apartments, be renters or have no access to solar resources. Overwhelmingly, the most vulnerable, low-income electricity users in our society fall into this category.
'Social Access Solar Gardens' are a type of solar garden that specifically seek to enable locked out and the most vulnerable and low-income energy users to participate in solar.
A solar garden is a centralised solar array that offers consumers the opportunity to purchase or lease solar panels with the electricity generated credited to the customer’s energy bill. This provides an innovative solution to accessing renewable energy for those who are unable to place solar on their homes. The solar panels may be located off-site but the household receives a similar outcome as having solar on their own roof. Social Access Solar Gardens are a type of Solar Gardens that specifically seek to enable the most vulnerable and low-income energy users to participate in solar.
The research project
Social Access Solar Gardens brought together energy retailers, councils, community energy agencies and social welfare organisations and the NSW Government to examine the viability of a solar garden in five locations - Blacktown in western Sydney, Swan Hill in northwest Victoria, Townsville in north Queensland, Shoalhaven and Byron Bay in New South Wales.
To test the viability of the solar gardens concept, the project supported a prototype in each location. The prototype teams examined everything from site feasibility to how to recruit customers, and end up by making a statement of intent about whether to proceed. The teams created business models, billing plans, and looked at the financial viability of the projects; they undertook ‘real planning for a real pilot’ of a Social Access Solar Garden. The teams were supported by expert research in market testing, financial assessment and legal review. This approach helped teams to get a real-world view of how a solar garden could work.
The project aimed to either:
- Develop between one and four pilot Solar Gardens that are de-risked and ready to implement and are underpinned by business models that are desirable to locked-out energy users, viable and feasible, as shown in the figure below, or to;
- Identify the specific barriers that would prevent the Social Access Solar Garden model from working, and identify potential solutions to overcome these barriers. Further, once solutions have been identified and socialised with stakeholders able to remove barriers and implement solutions, to unlock solar gardens.
The following resources were developed as part of the project and are available to assist other groups in Australia wishing to establish a solar garden.
The market research has been designed and delivered by ISF and Concentric Energy (experts in behavioural economics) to test customer needs, wants and desires through focus groups, surveys and social media. This research has produced high-value knowledge and insights which helped teams to think through how to create and position their solar garden product, engage customers and reach vulnerable energy users.
The web-based Financial Assessment tool, also developed by ISF, added real value to the project by enabling teams to model the financial outcomes from their proposed solar garden. The tool calculates the financial outcomes from the proposed solar garden to determine whether it’s economically viable.
Access a read-only version of the Financial Assessment Tool
(username: Public, password: Public12)
Global law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright has also provided pro-bono legal services to the project. Their expert advice, provided through a comprehensive report gives guidance around the regulatory framework that the business models must comply with. They have also provided discrete advice around what is both legally compliant and feasible in this context. The legal team have also been central to supporting the prototype teams to navigate the difficult contractual arrangements necessary to implement a solar gardens pilot project by drafting a set of legal agreement templates to support project implementation.
Template: draft Expression of Interest (including sample Power Purchase Agreement clauses)
Template: Co-op establishment documents
Template: Sample disclosure statement
Principles for a SASG retailer contract
Project partners and funders
This project was made possible with the funding support from ARENA and the NSW Government, as well a number of the project partner organisations.
For more information
Photo courtesy of Lismore Workers Club.