Community energy movement: Reductions enable Resilience

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Many people are reading Scott Morrison’s decision to focus on the ‘practical’ measures of resilience and adaptation as an acknowledgment emissions reduction are too hard for his government.

Scott Morrison is correct: our communities do need to build resilience against the impacts of climate change. Undoubtedly, this statement is cold comfort for bushfire affected communities that have no choice but to find resilience as the painstaking task of rebuilding.

But resilience is a trait that will be needed in spades in a harsher climate.

Rather than let this focus on resilience be another distraction from the urgent need to decarbonise our economy, we can seize it for a mass community-driven deployment of renewable energy across the country.

The bushfire crisis has solidified the desire of Australians to see their government take action on climate change. The main driver of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels. If we can build resilience in regional communities through renewable energy, we will be taking huge steps to reduce our climate impact at the same time, in a way that is politically appealing to all sides of politics.

The community energy movement has shown all around the world that one of the most comprehensive ways to build resilience in rural and regional communities is by installing community-scale renewable energy generation and storage facilities. The countless success stories prove that emissions reduction enables communities to build resilience, often one house at a time.

We don’t have to look overseas for success stories either.

We are a part of a community energy movement that is building resilience in an incredibly bushfire-prone part of the world.

The town of Yackandandah has been threatened by bushfires at least three times since the year 2000, including on Black Saturday.

The community group Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY) has committed to powering the town with 100% renewable energy. In the process, it is better preparing the region in the face of natural disasters.

Last year, TRY installed solar panels and a battery on the Yackandandah CFA shed to ensure it would have power even in the face of electricity being cut. TRY and its partners, including local community energy company Indigo Power have also been working on setting up micro-grids with community-scale renewable energy generation and storage.

A microgrid is a network of interconnected properties working cooperatively to generate, consume and store electricity. Technology is rapidly being developed to enable these microgrids to become ‘Islandable’. Islandable microgrids are capable of operating independently of the main grid.

A huge problem with the current bushfire crisis is that long after the fire has moved on, towns remain without power because far-off infrastructure needs repairing. Islandable microgrids negate this problem.

The energy system is changing and community renewables can help build resilience in the local grid, while at the same time decarbonising our energy supply and keeping profits in the local communities at the same time. It is win, win, win.

Now, fourteen community energy groups across North East Victoria are gearing up to take community resilience to the next level.

The groups form the North East Community Energy Network, which is led by Indigo Power, a community-owned, certified social enterprise on a mission to power the region with 100% renewable electricity. Indigo Power is helping communities organise themselves to transition to a resilient, low-carbon future.

In Yackandandah, this means building Australia’s first community-scale solar and battery project – enough to power 40 houses. Indigo Power will own the battery and will sell the exported electricity to local retail customers. Although we have had to fundraise to subsidise this battery, future projects will need less and less subsidisation.

The Yackandandah battery will be the first of many projects that accelerate the reduction of emissions while keeping money in local communities. Bushfire recovery funds can supercharge the rollout of these projects, building resilience in communities, and tackling climate change at the same time.

We would like to invite Scott Morrison and his government to North East Victoria to see how bushfire-prone regions are taking the initiative, and providing a model that can be replicated across the rest of the country.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.