Energy Innovation Co-operative Ltd submission to the medium-scale solar discussion paper
Response to Medium Scale Solar Discussion Paper
From Energy Innovation Co-operative Ltd
Ours is a relatively new and small Co-operative, established with the goals of facilitating and promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, and in the longer term helping our communities move "towards zero emissions". Our main membership at present is focussed in the Bass Coast and South Gippsland region, our activities are about to spread into Cardinia Shire, and we have some members beyond those boundaries.
We have identified three levels of activities. Our current level of community engagement (level 1) is about to be lifted beyond the activity days, festival participation and newsletter stage via a Vic government Climate Communities grant allowing us to run energy efficiency workshops. The second level began when we started organising a bulk buy of solar panels (now extended to solar hot water services) and this will be boosted significantly with our acceptance as one of five Victorian Solar Hubs, facilitating the installation of up to 650 kw of solar PVs across the three shires.
The third level of our activities, aspects of which we are currently preparing the business case for in preparation for an investment pitch to Social Traders “Crunch” program (and other potential investors), will be the installation of small- medium scale renewable energy generation capacity.
Hence our interest in this discussion paper. Please forgive the brevity of this response. Your short response period, and our only recent discovery of the paper have not assisted.
1. My first, and probably most important point is to "question the question".
A genuine and serious effort by government to build renewable energy generation and reduce greenhouse emissions should be focussed clearly on the desired outcome ie increased renewable energy generation. It should not be focussed on picking the means by which that increased renewable energy generation is achieved.
Governments should not attempt to "pick winners" by specifying the next type of technology they will support. That distorts the market, and discourages innovation. What we actually need is more renewable energy, and fewer emissions.
There are many ideas and new technologies out there and coming. Our Co-op members’ intention is to help explore a range of technologies- some of which will become viable in the longer term, and some of which may fail. We are all beginning to be comfortable with solar now, and public acceptance is pretty much there (for small scale solar at least).
Don’t stymie innovation by choosing now to pick out one technology at a time to support.
We have thought about medium scale solar, but we also have a lot of good wind resource in this area and once we go to medium scale, we will be investigating both (along with the less proven technologies as well).
2. Section 5. Identification of potential barriers to uptake
Immediate and long term financial barriers to uptake:
It is harder to show a clear and precise business case for technology for which the efficiencies are significantly dependent on locality and positioning.
Thus seeking investment on a purely commercial basis will continue to be very difficult.
Our project is intended to establish “demonstration sites” of differing technologies. It is easier to encourage commercially viable uptake when people can see, monitor and measure what is already on the ground in their own vicinity.
These demonstration sites will be community owned, and probably dependent on some philanthropic or government partial investment. Thus the initial financial risk is shared and the initial community scepticism can be muted by shared ownership.
3. Section 6.1. Broader policy aims
Q11. There are less likely opportunities for establishing local manufacture and production of solar technologies (particularly ones which can be regionalised), than there are of establishing local manufacture and production of other renewable technologies such as wind. The technology is just too sophisticated.
Q12. Increased community engagement, over and above financial benefits, we believe to be critically important, and significant.
Encouraging community ownership has very significant community building, educative and consensus-building potential.
Only when people know more will they become more comfortable with technological change. Community ownership provides a more comfortable place for an individual’s first steps, and working individual by individual, we can build towards broad community acceptance and adoption.
This is a major premise of our Co-operative structure and purpose. We are still in our early stages. But we are building numbers each time we announce a new initiative. There is a lot of confusion and lack of knowledge in our community, but there is also a great desire to know more, and to do more. We have no firm statistical evidence of this yet. Watch this space.
Q 13. "Support models". Again, you are asking the wrong questions. You need to discuss incentives for community engagement in producing renewable energy, not just “Solar” (whether it is small, medium or large).
Community ownership- ie spreading the educative potential, community- building, shared risk, and ultimate financial return is absolutely the best opportunity for community engagement in whatever renewable technology is to be explored and established.
The further out we can share the potential benefits, the greater the opportunity for consensus building and community acceptance of the new and unfamiliar.
4. Section 6.2 Specific Drivers for investing in Medium scale solar.
Q17 & Q 18. Other drivers: What drives the Co-op and its members is the knowledge of the absolute imperative of reducing carbon emissions and increased renewable energy generation capacity in our society.
The immediate costs involved in acting to build renewable energy generation capacity are trivial in comparison to the long term costs of not acting! And yet we also enjoy the benefits of technology and a reliable electricity supply. Long live the refrigerator and automatic washing machine!
5. Potential for Medium scale solar in Victoria
Q19. The fact that we have now established a trading co-operative structure provides the best, and I would suggest the only significant opportunity to establish medium scale renewable energy generation capacity in our region of mainly rural communities and small towns.
Sharing the capacity to explore and grab opportunities when they appear (often suddenly and with short lead times), and sharing the financial risk between many, rather than the few, is what a community owned, community run Co-operative provides the capacity to do.
Q 25. There are already opportunities being provided by the government’s other programs such as the Solar Hubs program, to increase numbers of tradespeople being trained and provided with experience in installing solar systems. The Co-operative’s submission to this program emphasised additional training of local electricians.
Once we get them used to small scale technologies, we can move on together to medium scale technologies. Lots of sparkies out there are a bit interested in something new!
We are interested in medium-scale solar.
But don’t go down cul-de-sacs. Find a way to encourage the government to focus on the end game. It is reduced emissions and increased renewable energy generation capacity that our society needs. Why support one technology over others which may in the end be cheaper, easier and more efficient?
Many thanks for the opportunity to touch on some of these points. Wish I had more time to discuss more issues. Our Co-operative members would welcome an opportunity to be involved in further negotiations/ discussions/ consultation.
Chair Energy Innovation Co-operative Ltd