A month into 2016 and boy, what an exciting year this is set to be! COP21 behind us, a world of battery storage amongst us, and an energy stock exchange ahead of us? Has solar finally found its place in the sun?
Could Energy be the new Internet Boom…? Has Tesla brought an Apple-like desirability to the solar industry..? What will happen to the traditional Utilities and energy networks…?
So while many write their own trend forecasts for 2016: Growth of the market, continuing reduction in prices of PV, the storage revolution etc, I want to take a different angle. Because the trends that excite me are those based more in social change than in market analysis.
Over the coming posts I’m going to share some of the things I’m most excited about in the year or two ahead – yes storage and Tesla will be in there (but maybe not the way you think). We’ll be talking smart energy management and home automation, building integrated PV and design, power trading and the energy stock exchange…it’s gonna be rocking.
But first up I want to talk about what a friend of mine calls his ‘food for the soul’. What others call Community Solar.
Trends for 2016: PART 1.
Power to the people: Community Solar
“Power does not reside in institutions, not even the state or large corporations. It is located in the networks that structure society.” – Spanish sociologist, Manuel Castells.
My favourite TV show right now is a series called Halt and Catch Fire. In the same league as Breaking Bad and Madmen, it’s a portrait of the 1980s computer industry; the time when IBM and Apple were fledglings. When internet gaming and community sites were only just beginning. And when ‘Google it’ wasn’t a Verb.
The story revolves around 4 main characters including a young genius programmer called Cameron who heads up online gaming start-up, Mutiny. There’s a significant scene in the second season when Cameron, concedes to her business partner Donna, that Community (chat rooms), not games, is where the future lies.
Because as humans we have a fundamental need for connection. A need to feel part of something that’s bigger than ourselves.
So, fast-track 30 years and Community is growing momentum again. This time in solar energy.
According to GTM research community solar in the US alone is set to explode over the next 2-5 years, with the sunny states of California, Minnesota, Colorado and Massachusetts leading the charge.
In November 2015 the Obama administration held a summit focussed specifically on community solar, where 68 states, cities and businesses signed up to work together to increase access to solar for all Americans.
While big corporates like SolarCity and SunEdison are jumping on the community solar bandwagon, it’s companies like Clean Energy Collective and Sunshare who are owning the space in the US right now, building large-scale solar farms (or solar gardens as they’re affectionately known) for whole communities.
In the US it’s is still a very corporate model, particularly compared to the more localised, grass roots projects springing up in places like the UK and Australia.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
This quote has been with me throughout my career. It’s why this type of community solar really touches my heart. And it’s why my friend refers to community solar as ‘food for the soul’. We’re not the only ones…
Brixton Energy Solar, UK
Last year at Solar Energy UK I had the chance to nab Solar Media’s head of content, Ben Willis for a quick chat. When I asked him to share a couple of his favourite solar projects (keep in mind this guy has the liberty of being across some pretty cool stuff worldwide), Ben chose something close close to his heart, and his home…Brixton Energy Solar.
An energy initiative driven by the folks at Repowering London, Brixton Energy Solar is on to its fourth project. The group aims to “create resilient, empowered communities that control and own the generation and usage of local renewable energy”.
Not only do the solar systems give investors an annual return of 3-5% and large tax benefit, they also give a return to the community via a social energy fund that’s used to improve the energy efficiency of homes, provide training to young people in the co-op, and reduce fuel poverty. For more info on these cool London Community projects visit www.repowering.org.uk
From the grey skies of London Town, to sun-drenched Australia.
I want to highlight some of my own favourite community solar projects going on right here; projects led by passionate, innovative communities in the face of policy that makes the business model for community solar somewhat challenging to execute (more on that in a great article from the legends at One Step Off the Grid).
So let’s dive right into 3 of my faves here in Aus:
Young Henrys Brewery, Sydney
Hello, who doesn’t love a brewery right?!***
In Australia we’re lucky to have some seriously awesome craft breweries and Young Henrys is one of my faves. Located in Sydney’s inner suburb of Newtown, it’s a beloved place that locals come to socialise and connect over craft beer. Apart from the Young Henrys guys being total legends producing delicious beer, the brewery has sunshine on tap. The locals have invested more than their beer money in the business by putting a solar array on the brewery’s roof.
Sustainability group Pingala, with backing from the City of Sydney, made the project possible.“Our vision is for a clean energy future where everybody can share in the benefits that come from solar,” says Pingala volunteer Jake Steele. “It’s exciting to give non-traditional solar owners an opportunity to participate in a local project. Now anyone from renters to students to pensioners can get involved in solar energy in their own neighbourhood.”
After the forecast 8-10 year payback for investors is over, the solar system will be donated to the brewery where it will continue to reap sunpowered rewards.
*** Disclaimer, breweries are some of my favourite solar clients…but more on that love affair in another post.
International Convention Centre, Sydney
A 520kW solar array will soon adore the new International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour. The $1 Million project was awarded to my friends at Canadian Solar in a deal signed between property developer Lend Lease and Embark – a not-for-profit that makes community energy projects happen. The solar system will be entirely owned by the community, with shares offered to the public in the unlisted Sydney Renewable Power Company, and a secondary revenue stream provided through renewable energy offsets and certificates.
Andy Cavanagh-Downs – a director of Embark energy and the Sydney Renewable Power Company – reported to RenewEconomy the project aims to show that energy developments can happen in a ‘bottom up’, community-driven way, rather than a ‘top down’ way.
“This scale means that energy projects can be distributed geographically and more readily able to use the untapped energy resources around us. An installation of this size is perfect for the community to rally around.
“Medium-scale distributed solar energy systems — located on the roofs of factories, warehouses, shopping malls and convention centres — could provide a significant proportion of urban electricity demand”, says Associate Professor Mark Diesendorf from the Institute of Environmental Studies at UNSW.
Enova, Byron Bay
Ok, so technically not a community solar project in its own right, I’d be crazy to overlook Enova in this story. Because these guys are seriously changing the energy market! As I touched on earlier, current government policy is a barrier to the execution of community solar in Australia – one problem is finding a retailer willing to buy the power or aggregate the meters so multiple sites can share the power produced by renewables.
Welcome Enova. Australia’s first community energy retailer was set up to solve this issue; to enable sharing of renewable energy resources within the local community.Siemens is already showing interest in establishing the area as a micro grid, with the Byron Bay council exploring a system of energy trading. Bigger retailers like AGL are starting to take notice.
One thing is for sure, Enova is breaking the energy mould. It’s a smart move in a world of decentralising energy supply.
Wrapping it up
So let’s go back to the internet analogy for a second. What’s happening in the energy market is similar to what happened in the information market. Communication used to be one way; corporates would send out their carefully tailored messages via TV, radio, print – a bit like the energy distributors have done with energy up until now. Once the internet took off people had a myriad of ways of getting information – suddenly the consumer was in the driver’s seat. It’s similar to what’s happening in the energy market with the emergence of micro grids, battery storage and community solar.)
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”– Socrates
So as we embrace 2016 let’s remember these words. Let’s get excited because we are on the cusp of something great, something that will fundamentally change the fabric of society and the way we use energy. Let’s harness the power of community to build something long, lasting and meaningful.
Until next time…SGx