TRY recently participated in a podcast on community energy groups in north-east Victoria called Voices from the North East. With the final episode of the series now released, if you’re looking for some fascinating stories to listen to in isolation, this one’s worth checking out.
A mosaic of community energy groups are working hard across Australia to reform the national energy system. Local groups throughout our vast land are helping to drive a just and considered switch away from the dated act of burning stuff to make electricity to smart, affordable and effective clean energy.
Video and sound producer Simon Duncan, from GreenEnergy Videos, has curated a dynamic snapshot of groups working in north-east Victoria to accelerate the transition to clean energy and do so in a way that strengthens their communities: to save money, boost local economies and help create a modern, smart renewables based electricity grid. His podcast is called Voices from the North East and has episodes on five local groups, including TRY and Indigo Power.
Why not enliven some of your unplanned spare time with the stories of passionate people working hard to usher in a new era of energy and which responds to climate change and a yearning for more people based energy systems. You can find the podcast via the link below:
Kim McConchie is the TRY secretary, has a degree in Applied Science in chemistry, and used to drive one of the very first electric vehicles in the 1980’s, when his employer, Dunlop Batteries, was developing storage batteries for different purposes. With a long career in different industries, he understands the science behind climate change and renewable energy. He’s now retired and lives on 16 acres outside Yack with his wife, two dogs and 7 kW of solar panels that provide most of their needs. Here he gives an insight into his motivations for joining TRY.
Try. It’s a little word that has big connotations. Try to get motivated to get out of bed in the morning. Try to have a sustaining breakfast for the energy to face another day. Try to face the world without becoming dispirited by the negativity, the confusion, and the absolute rigidity of political thought that our leaders seem to be locked into. Try to face up to a struggle against it all that can be daunting, enraging and frustrating, when it seems that you have no voice. Try to do all this, and that little word can seem an obstacle in itself.
TRY. It’s a little acronym which also has big connotations. It’s an acronym I came across as we prepared to move to Yackandandah late in 2016. Reading up on the town, its community, and the achievements that had been made, raised the feeling of positivity, something that even the thought of packing up and shifting 25 years of stuff and memories couldn’t diminish. And one little line that hooked my interest was the goal to become a 100% renewable energy community. In Melbourne, my wife Chantelle and I had been members of Solar Citizens, joined in events, held banners outside politicians’ offices, and while we did try to be positive, there was a feeling of pushing against a great wall of indifference when it came to achieving tangible outcomes. So the hook was readily taken.
The move was made, the boxes (mostly) unpacked, the neighbours made us feel very welcome. Of course, the discussions quickly turned to why we moved to Yack? We talked about the many positives of the people, the place and the property we had fallen in love with, and I mentioned the push for renewable energy as a factor that had absolutely resonated with me… and with that, our neighbour Neil Padbury said there’s a TRY meeting on next month, I’ll take you to it and you can meet the committee. Which he did, and next month I went again, and haven’t stopped.
It was actually quite daunting looking at the progress that had been made, and the plans to meet the 2022 goal of 100%. And daunting becoming a part of a wholly committed, quite visionary group of volunteers working to meet a renewable ideal to benefit the Yack community in the first instance, but also to ultimately provide inspiration to other communities to be able to set and achieve such lofty goals.
TRY. Try. Two faces of the same coin. Three years on and the TRY progress has been remarkable. The vision is clear and the path to meet the goal well defined. Try and you can succeed is the great story that comes out of this journey, being a part of it has become one of the many positives and a source of motivation that the move to Yack provided. And we always welcome others who also want to try – maybe that’s you? ––– Kim McConchie
Matt Grogan reflects on the challenges and opportunities that face regional communities in the wake of a fiery summer.
This summer’s devastating bushfires show us once again that regional communities are on the front lines of the climate crisis.
Loss of life and property, ecological devastation, and economic pain are but a few examples. As the fires continue to burn, evidence is mounting that the most remote communities are the most vulnerable. Isolated towns could be without power and clean water for weeks.
Once the rain finally comes and the fires are extinguished, our attention will turn toward rebuilding. We know climate change has driven the severity of these fires. We know climate change means more fire seasons like this one.
We need to support communities to rebuild themselves in a way that makes them more resilient for future catastrophes. What if adapting to climate change provides an opportunity for rural and regional Australia to re-invent itself and curb rural decline?
As affected regions across Australia rebuild, decision makers would do well to look to rural Scotland, where communities have invested in renewable electricity generation assets that have become the cornerstones of thriving local economies. Instead of funnelling money to electricity corporations based in far-off cities, profits remain in the community, and community members have the opportunity to upskill by learning about innovative technologies and investment models.
These skills are then transferred and developed in other pursuits to create thriving, culturally vibrant communities where young people want to stay. Some of the projects in rural Scotland have been distributing profits to communities for more than 20 years. Community energy is not unique to Scotland – many volunteer groups in Australia work tirelessly to help their communities transition towards a decentralised, de-carbonised and democratised electricity supply. But even the most strident supporters of community energy in Australia would admit that there is a long way to go in most instances before community energy projects meaningfully contribute to baseload power. In Scotland, on the other hand, a co-ordinated and long-term policy developed and maintained by the Scottish government has enabled community-owned energy projects to meet baseload power demands in many rural communities.
Directing a portion of the bushfire recovery money towards community-led, decentralised electricity generation and storage projects is the perfect opportunity to prove that, like Scotland, rural Australians can take control and benefit from providing clean energy to themselves and the rest of the country.
The town of Yackandandah in northeast Victoria is proof that relatively modest contributions from government and philanthropic donations can unlock local investment and keep money within the community. Yackandandah has been working over the past 5 years to transition its electricity supply to 100% renewable. Approximately 60% of the houses in the town have solar panels, and almost every community-owned building does too. In 2015, the local health service and aged care facility installed 130 kW of solar panels on its roof, and by 2035, it will have saved several hundred thousand dollars in power bills. Additionally, Yackandandah’s fire station has a large solar and battery installation, meaning that it can operate in isolation in the event of a power outage.
Yackandandah has received approximately $700,000 in Victorian government grants; philanthropic funding; and donations, which has been matched by household infrastructure investment of over $1.1million. The philanthropic funds have largely been put towards resourcing committed locals to create and facilitate a pathway towards a 100% renewable electricity supply.
The government funding has helped Yackandandah build the physical and commercial infrastructure to enable its electricity supply to become self-reliant. The good news, if there can be any, for communities affected by bushfire, is that the concept has now been proven.
Locally focused electricity infrastructure, supported by community-scale generation and storage mean that remote communities will not need to completely rely on hundreds of kilometres of electricity grid being repaired and checked before the power can be reconnected after a fire. The generation, supply and consumption of electricity can, to a large extent, be contained within a town.
This could be a game changer for remote towns like Corryong and Walwa who are vulnerable to disruption to their electricity supply during natural disasters – when the community most need access to power.
A key part of the localised electricity solution in Yackandandah is Indigo Power. Indigo Power is a community-owned, certified social enterprise that is working with its partners to create community energy hubs – first in Yackandandah and then across the Hume region of Victoria and the Southern Riverina region of New South Wales. Community energy hubs allow electricity retail customers of Indigo Power to pool and share household solar electricity, and then draw from community-owned generation and storage facilities. Indigo Power is working with Yackandandah to install one of Australia’s first community-owned batteries that exports power to the electricity grid for use by locals.
As electricity sharing technology becomes more sophisticated, communities will become more prepared for future disasters. Technology is being developed that allows electricity grid operators to ‘island’ a town’s electricity supply on days of extreme fire risk, thereby potentially eliminating the risk of fires sparked by the electricity distribution network, and decreasing the risk of power outages.
An added benefit of Yackandandah’s journey has been the sense of pride and togetherness derived from its 100% renewable target. Similarly, the common purpose for a project that is greater than the sum of its parts can help bushfire affected communities on their long road to recovery. Community-energy projects bring the community together to share stories and grow.
Like the Landcare-funded tree planting days of the 1980s and 1990s that changed the landscape of rural Australia, community energy works best if many people contribute a small amount so that a broad sense of ownership is created. Community members can work together to recover by building resilience.
The examples of Scotland and Yackandandah are evidence that targeted funds can unlock local investment so that renewable electricity can become a source of income and resilience for rural communities. Post bushfire, it’s time to scale the idea throughout affected communities.
A mid-afternoon summer sky turned orange and red by uncontrollable fire is the climate catastrophe that many have dreaded. But a narrative of fear will not help rural communities recover. Community-owned energy projects can provide hope for the future by enabling rural communities to take control of their own destinies.
Matt Grogan is a co-founder of Totally Renewable Yackandandah and Indigo Power.
Great excitement was afoot in the Yackandandah Public Hall on Thursday night as the Yackandandah Community Energy Hub was launched!
A full house listened to Cathy McGowan AO, Cr Jenny O’Connor (Mayor of Indigo Shire), Matthew Charles-Jones (TRY Chairperson), Rod Jones (Manager, Distributed Energy Resources of Mondo) and Ben McGowan (Managing Director of Indigo Power) speak about the energy hub. Matt, Rod and Ben then took questions from the audience to further explain how it all worked.
The Hub is the product of three years of hard work by TRY, Mondo and the newly formed Indigo Power. Most excitedly residents will now be able to trade locally generated renewable energy.
It is essentially a means by which energy can be traded within the region and consists of a competitive retail tariff and Indigo Power will return 50% of profits to clean energy and community projects in local towns.
This means that Indigo Power patrons generating excess solar will get paid for it via a feed-in tariff and their Indigo Power neighbours can purchase that power. Power that can’t be supplied locally is imported from the grid and is fully carbon offset. As community-scale storage and generation projects are added to the local mini-grid, more local energy will be available for trading, and it all contributes to the 2022 goal – 100% local renewable energy!
TRY are very pleased to have a very diverse range of contributors, ranging from business, state and local government, to make the energy hub a reality. If you’re a Yackandandah resident, you can get further information and sign up by going to www.indigopower.com.au.
And how about letting everyone know about this momentous Yack milestone – talk to your neighbours about the new retail offer, and if you can help spread the word around Yack via brochures or letterboxing, please email TRY at [email protected]
For those who live outside the Yackandandah boundaries, your turn is coming. Other hubs will be launched around the north-east Victorian region in early 2020 – watch this space for more news!
We had a terrific and intimate celebration in Yack today to flag the completion of 10 solar installations on public buildings, three of which have batteries.
After five years of sustained effort ten public buildings have a combined total of 74.8 kW of solar panels and 36 kWh of batteries, including the Public Hall, Sports Park, CFA, Museum, Masonic Hall, Health Service and the Osbornes Flat, Wooragee and Bruarong Halls, and the Indigo Valley CFA. These systems are all linked by the electricity grid and the Ubi smart energy controller, and soon also the community energy retailer, Indigo Power.
They form a series of small, distributed solar and battery installations that are contributing renewable power to the grid around Yackandandah. Each on it’s own is not very large, but combined they contribute a significant amount to powering our town and act as a virtual power plant.
This project was made possible with inputs from the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, plus: TRY, Indigo Shire, Into Our Hands Foundation, Various Hall Committees, YCDCo, Selectronic Australia, Indigo Power and the Yackandandah Folk Festival. Big support also from solar professionals, Solar Integrity.
We had a second little celebration today, this one a very quiet affair out at the Kangaloola Wildlife Shelter – to celebrate the completion of a fund raising push (and now installation) to double the size of the off-grid battery storage: from 16kWh to 32kWh to meet the expanding demand associated with more wildlife carers!
Amongst the sharing by funding contributors, we learnt that the system now saves over $9000/year in generator fuel. They also now run a water pressure pump and a mobile phone booster. And the gas boosted solar hot water system has shifted consumption from one 45kg gas bottle every 6 weeks to 1 every 12 months.
Thanks to YCDCo, YCC, Solar Integrity and Indigo Speakers.
TRY has documented some of the inspiring motivations and actions for our 100% target. Check out the following two videos which show how far we’ve come in 5 years.
Yackandandah is full of many little amazing stories of energy transition. What happens when a household (and a town) becomes conscious about energy? Welcome to Part A of a renewable energy makeover with Helen and Denis… filmed in 2015 and goodness how time travels so mighty quick.
Four years later the town is well on the way with their ambitious renewable energy target. Catch up with Helen and Denis, and the village, on their calm and creative transition to clean local power and their desire to be part of a change for the world. Guest contributions from Rock Legend, Shane Howard.
Keen to do more in your home to reduce your carbon footprint? Not sure where to start? Did you know that heating, cooling and water heating generally account for more than 60% of household energy consumption. Small changes in these areas can make a big difference.
To help understand what you can do, TRY is launching our new Energy Coaching service. Volunteer Energy Coaches will be available for one-on-one home visits to chat to you about options for reducing your energy consumption.
If you would like to know more about this service please check out the Energy Coaching page under Resources in the menu above, or contact Donna Jones on 0428 423 072.
Happy days for the Yack Public Hall after 5 years of concerted effort. The hall now has 11 kW of solar PV, and a premium SP Pro battery inverter, paired with 10 kWh of battery storage.
Big thanks to the Vic Government, Yack Folk Festival, Indigo Shire, Selectronic Australia and the Hall Committee. Award winning Solar Integrity employee, Luke Fraser, pictured here leading the awesome installation team.
This installation is part of our virtual power plant (VPP), connected via the Mondo Ubi, and further building up our mini-grid. And what an awesome late winters day to start crafting home brewed power.
On July 30, Mondo won the Clean Energy Council’s prestigious Community Engagement Award for their partnership with TRY. The award recognises the commitment displayed by both parties in the pursuit of 100% clean renewable electricity. The journey reached a significant milestone in February this year when Yackandandah’s mini grid collectively generated 1GWh of renewable electricity. This accounts for approximately 25% of the town’s energy sourced from the sun and represents $160,000+ in community energy cost savings.
Mondo thanks everyone in Yackandandah, in particular the commitment and courage shown by everyone who purchased an energy system with them. This is particularly the case for people who have participated in the micro grids at both Yackandandah Heights on Racecourse Road and for those in the Osbornes Flat/Ben Valley communities. Thanks also go to Solar Integrity, the partnering solar installer, who have been a significant contributor to the work.
Further success was also evident with AusNet Services winning the Clean Energy Council’s Innovation Award. That award recognised the nationally relevant ARENA-funded research by the University of New South Wales with the 14-household micro grid in Osbornes Flat/Ben Valley.
Congratulations to Mondo and AusNet Services, and Solar Integrity and a shout out to a massive range of people in Yack. TRY feels a little proud, humble and thankful. Big on clean energy with local people (and planet) at the heart!