Between 1990 and 2010, the number of people with access to electricity has increased by 1.7 billion, and as the global population continues to rise so will the demand for cheap energy. A global economy reliant on fossil fuels, and the increase of greenhouse gas emissions is creating drastic changes to our climate system. This is impacting every continent.
Efforts to encourage clean energy has resulted in more than 20 percent of global power being generated by renewable sources as of 2011. But still one in five people lack access to electricity, and as the demand continues to rise there needs to be a substantial increase in the production of renewable energy across the world.
Ensuring universal access to affordable electricity by 2030 means investing in clean energy sources such as solar, wind and thermal. Adopting cost-effective standards for a wider range of technologies could also reduce the global electricity consumption by buildings and industry by 14 percent. This means avoiding roughly 1,300 mid-size power plants. Expanding infrastructure and upgrading technology to provide clean energy in all developing countries is a crucial goal that can both encourage growth and help the environment. Source
Worldwide Community energy has and continues to underpin the energy transition in countries like Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom and even the United States. The first modern wind turbine – Tvindkraft - was literally built by a community in Denmark in 1978.
In Germany, 47% of the installed capacity is owned by citizens and communities while in Scotland there are now 249 community energy projects.
Renewable energy is energy which can be obtained from natural resources that can be constantly replenished.
Renewable energy technologies include technologies that use—or enable the use of—one or more renewable energy sources. Types of renewable energy technologies include:
Renewable energy technologies also include hybrid and related technologies. For example technologies that:
Rapid improvements in technology and pricing present fresh opportunities to replace polluting energy sources like coal and coal seam gas with energy from the sun, sea and wind. By using energy more wisely and harnessing the power of renewable energy we can create opportunities for new employment and economic growth, foster regional development, and reduce our contribution to global climate change. It is time to make the switch to a clean energy economy by:
Australia’s renewable energy potential Australia has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, particularly in wind and solar (Geoscience Australia and ABARE 2010).
In fact, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO 2013) Australia has more than enough renewable energy resources to power all our electricity needs. AEMO (2013) modelled scenarios for providing 100 percent of Australia’s electricity from renewable energy, and found potential renewable generation to be about 500 times greater than demand in the Nation.
While national action is vital, the roles and opportunities for Australian states and territories to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding renewable energy should not be underestimated. Internationally, the energy sector accounts for the largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main drivers of climate change. Tackling climate change requires large scale changes in the electricity sector and a tripling of low-carbon energy by 2050. Australia’s electricity is largely generated from coal. Our fleet is ageing and inefficient, which means that most of Australia’s coal stations are much more emissions intensive than other countries, including the USA and China. Within the decade, around half of Australia’s coal fuelled generation fleet will be over 40 years old.
Australia will need to plan and install new electricity generation to replace ageing generators. The Climate Council’s recent report found that rapid deployment of renewable power, like wind and solar, is one of the most effective ways to reduce electricity sector emissions. Source
However, despite having world-class renewable energy resources, particularly in wind and solar, Australia has a low share of renewable electricity generation – seventh lowest among 28 member countries of the International Energy Agency (Australian Energy Regulator 2012).
As well as providing low or no emissions energy, renewables attract investment and create jobs, particularly in regional Australia. Twenty one thousand people are already employed in the renewable energy industry in Australia (Clean Energy Council 2014a) and modelling by the Climate Institute (2011) estimated that nearly 32,000 renewable energy jobs (including over 6,800 new permanent jobs) could be created in Australia by 2030 with strong and consistent climate policies.
Farmers and landowners in regional areas who lease their land for wind turbines also benefit through annual lease payments which provide a reliable, alternative source of income and help to “drought-proof” farms (Chapman 2013). Around $16.4 million is paid annually in lease payments for hosting wind turbines (Epuron 2014; Clean Energy Council 2014a).
Solar and wind provide clean energy and consequently also have additional benefits of reducing the pollution from other energy sources. Coal, the dominant fuel for electricity in Australia produces pollutants that damage human health through mining, transportation, combustion and the disposal of waste (Epstein et al 2011). In Australia, it is estimated that the adverse impacts from pollutants produced from coal-fired electricity generation costs A$ 2.6 billion annually (ATSE 2009). The least expensive zero emission option available at scale for deployment today in Australia is wind, closely followed by field scale solar PV (Climate Council 2014b).
Over each full year, renewables are reducing wholesale electricity prices, not only in Australian states where wind and solar PV penetration is high, but in many overseas markets (e.g. Denmark, Texas and Germany) (Sinclair Knight Merz 2013). A University of New South Wales study analysed wind generation, electricity demand and price data in the NEM between 2011 and 2013 and found wind reduced the average wholesale electricity price by 5 to 8 percent.
However, the study found these cost savings had not been passed on to households and small business due to exemptions for energy intensive industries, the market power of the large retailers, and the regulation of electricity tariffs in some states (Cludius et al 2014). Source
Australia, like much of the rest of the world, is in the midst of an energy transition. With falling electricity demand and the uptake of household solar panels in just under 1.4 million homes, the most important question is not whether this transition is happening, but how we manage it to maximise the benefit to all Australians.
Community energy is one of the answers. Community energy projects are those in which a community comes together to develop, deliver and benefit from sustainable energy. They can involve energy supply projects such as renewable energy installations and storage, and energy reduction projects such as energy efficiency and demand management. Community energy can even include community-based approaches to selling or distributing energy.
Community energy projects allow individuals to be involved in clean energy beyond the bounds of their own homes or businesses and in so doing bring a range of benefits and opportunities for their household and for the wider community. Source
However, there are still significant barriers to realise the full potential of community energy in Australia. That is why the organisations at the forefront of the emerging community energy sector in Australia have founded the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE).
The Coalition for Community Energy has been founded using a Collaborative Impact approach. C4CE believes collaboration creates greater impact than the simple sum of individual member efforts. Together, we can make the difference. Visit the C4CE website here.
Some prominent examples of community energy in Australia include:
There are more than 60 groups across every state and territory in Australia developing community energy projects. The most popular are community solar projects.
While it’s clear that Australians love solar, there are more structural reasons why communities are starting with community solar projects. Firstly, solar’s “scalability” means it can be easily tailored to a community’s energy needs. Groups can start with small projects and build their capacity and know-how.
Secondly, Australia has high retail electricity prices and low wholesale electricity prices. This means that business models such as community solar tend to stack up much better if they can reduce energy consumed at the meter, rather than competing with large coal-fired power generators in the wholesale market.
Indeed, the Coalition for Community Energy has recently released a guide to “behind the meter” models of community solar.
However, while many communities are starting with solar, many have more lofty ambitions, including the Zero Net Energy Town project in Uralla, NSW, the 100% Renewable Yackandandah initiative in Victoria, community bioenergy projects in Cowra and northern NSW, and many more.
This ambition and the potential of community energy in Australia led the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to fund the development of a National Community Energy Strategy, led by the Institute of Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney. This outlines a range of initiatives that are needed to grow the community energy sector in Australia and maximise the potential benefit of the energy transition to all communities.
Community energy projects are disruptive business models with financial and social value. The motivations for community energy are many and varied including wanting to act on climate change, wanting to reduce the amount of money that goes out of a community in power bills, and increasing social capital and community resilience.
We are starting to see the rise of community entrepreneurs innovating and developing new models, and in doing so reshaping the future of energy in their communities. With the support mechanisms outlined in the National Strategy, there is no reason that Australia can’t follow in the footsteps of other countries, to allow all communities across Australia to benefit socially and financially from the energy transition. Source
Australian farmers manage over 60% of the Australian landscape.
"One way in which farmers are taking climate action is through the adoption of renewable energy. Farmers have long fed the world – and now they are helping power it as well. Renewable energy uses natural resources that can be constantly replenished, and provides a winning situation for those on the land and all living beings. It provides farmers with an additional source of income and a stable source of income, a means for reducing costs, increasing self-reliance and enabling a greener production system.
The importance of renewable energy is well understood by farmers and has been used in food production systems for centuries. Using the sun to dry crops and grain is one of the oldest applications of solar energy, windmills have drawn water from depth, while harnessing the power of flowing water with waterwheels was a game-changer for early civilizations to advance.
Right across the world, communities – both rural and urban – are recognising the opportunity created by clean energy.
Although there is an extensive history of renewable energies used on farms, they still mainly play only a localised and modest role in energy production. For large-scale implementation of renewable energies, countries need to devise strategies to improve availability and affordability of suitable technologies – developed for local contexts and holding opportunity for scaling-up.
The great prospects for renewable energy to be embraced by agriculture are out there, and as a farmer, I am truly excited to see the expansion of clean, green production systems."
Anika Molesworth. Australian Young Farmer of the Year 2015. Source
Energy use efficiency describes the total amount of energy used on farm (in the form of electricity, diesel, or other sources) compared to the amount of production. If energy consumed can be reduced, while production is maintained or increased, energy use efficiency is improved. This may be one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve profitability, and will also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Research indicates there are significant opportunities to reduce energy - and therefore costs on Australian farms.
It is important for farmers to monitor their energy use to estimate use and costs, and track these costs over time. An audit can also identify energy and cost savings, such as fuel switching and tariff negotiation.
As well as being a major cost, diesel and electricity are also significant contributors to GHG emissions. So maximising energy efficiency can not only help farmers be more profitable it can also help farming communities be more sustainable.
Renewable energy and farming are a winning combination. Wind, solar, and biomass energy can be harvested forever, providing farmers with a long-term source of income. Renewable energy can also help reduce pollution, global warming, and dependence on imported fuels.
Farms have long used wind power to pump water and generate electricity. Some large organisations have installed large wind turbines on farms to provide power to electric companies and consumers. Some farmers have also purchased wind turbines; others are starting to form wind power cooperatives.
The amount of energy from the sun that reaches Earth each day is enormous. All the energy stored in Earth's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas is equal to the energy from only 20 days of sunshine. Most areas of farmland in Australia receive enough sunshine to make solar energy practical. Solar energy can be used in agriculture in a number of ways, saving money, increasing self-reliance, and reducing pollution. Solar energy can cut a farm's electricity and heating bills. Solar water heaters can provide hot water for dairy operations and houses. Photovoltaics (solar electric panels) can power farm operations and remote water pumps, lights, and electric fences. Farm buildings can be renovated to capture natural daylight, instead of using electric lights.
The options that make the most sense for farmers depend on local renewable resources, energy markets, and the types of support available from federal and state government.
Biomass energy is produced from plants and organic wastes—everything from crops, trees, and crop residues to manure. Crops grown for energy could be produced in large quantities, just as food crops are.
Crops and biomass wastes can be converted to energy on farms or sold to energy companies that produce fuel for cars and tractors and heat and power for homes and businesses.
*for this unit when we refer to clean energy we are referring to renewable energy.