In New York City’s Central Park, beside the Turtle Pond, and between the Delacorte Theater and the 79th Street Transverse, sits the Shakespeare Garden and one of my favourite park benches. Inscribed on the bench is a quote from Walter Scott: “Nothing is more the child of art than a garden.”
Unfortunately, many of us city-dwellers don’t have the opportunity to indulge the innocent art of gardening, nor the obscenity to construct Versailles. However, just because everything is beer and skittles living in the inner city doesn’t mean we’ve lost the plot.
Many of pv magazine’s urban, and indeed urbane readers, will be aware of the idea of community gardens, but what about solar gardens? Solar gardens are offsite solar arrays in which the average punter can purchase a “solar plot,” which generates clean energy credited to your power bill.
Green thumb in the inner city
Sydney’s Inner West Council is a leader in solar uptake with its ambitious target of 1000% increase in solar penetration over the next decade. In fact, last month the council doubled its solar capacity in a single swoop. But now council is inviting Inner West residents to be part of Australia’s first large scale solar garden, the Haystacks Solar Garden initiative, a 1 MW solar farm in the NSW Riverina Region.
The initiative is offering 3 kW ‘solar plots’ to 333 ‘solar gardeners’ with a green thumb who don’t necessarily have the roofspace or option to install their own solar panels. Considering almost a third of Australians are unable to install solar panels because of their living situation, this is a feasible solar option with enormous potential.
A history of solar gardening
Of course, in Australia, solar gardening goes back tens of thousands of years, but solar gardens using solar panels first received Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding back in 2018. ARENA provided a grant of $240,000 to the $555,000 project run by the University of Technology Sydney.
The concept has a slightly longer history in the U.S., where large scale arrays have been developed for apartment dwellers, renters, and low income housing tenants. By 2018 there was already 200 MW of solar gardens in the U.S.
It is no secret that grid congestion and a lack of bi-partisanship on transmission upgrades is hindering Australia’s inevitable transition to renewable energy. But as some of the nation’s largest projects are being caught in the bottleneck, small-scale utility solar is surging. Small-scale utility solar, particularly around the 5 MW mark, can fly under the radar of the NEM’s congestion woes, and solar gardens can progress for just the same reason.
The Haystacks Solar Garden, supported by a grant from the NSW Government’s Regional Community Energy Fund, occupies about four hectares of land in the Haystacks region of the NSW Riverina. The garden, a cooperative, is the ideal way for renters and apartment-dwellers (i..e. anyone who isn’t a Boomer), to play a part in the energy transition and save money on their electricity bill at the same time.
According to Inner West Councillor Anna York, “40% of our residents live in rental properties and 44% of Inner West homes are apartments…Connecting Inner West residents with the solar garden is an exciting opportunity to break down solar barriers.”
Considering your solar isn’t tied to your place of residence, and you’ll be helping small-scale and rural clean energy retailers, solar gardening really is an easy solve – we might even call it child’s play.
An online information session run by the Community Power Agency for Inner West residents is on Wednesday 9 September, 5.30-6.30pm. Or click here to apply for Haystacks co-op membership.
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