Explainer
March 25, 2022

Solar panels play a huge role in helping Australia build a sustainable energy future. Yet one-third of all households are unable to directly participate in the switch to renewables and save money - renters, apartment dwellers and people with roofs that are too shady.

But solar community gardens could provide an answer.

How Do Solar Community Gardens Work?

A solar community garden allows you to purchase or rent a plot of solar panels situated somewhere other than your home, usually on land with good sun exposure near the existing electricity grid. It might be on a nearby warehouse roof, or at a farm on the outskirts of town. The energy produced from your plot is sold back to the retailer, who then provides you with a credit on your electricity bill.

What Are the Benefits? 

The first is a much-welcome reduction in your energy bill. A second is if you move, your solar moves with you as it’s not physically bound to your building or home. Another key benefit is the part you’re playing in building a greener and more sustainable future for Australia by supporting renewable energy.

 What Are the Options?

Broadly speaking, there are two types of solar gardens:

1.     Community-Owned

This is when a group of people within the same community (say an apartment complex) either purchase or subscribe to a solar panel plot run and operated by a third-party company. The power generated by each member’s plot feeds back to the grid and results in a bill credit.

2.     Social Benefit

This type of solar garden allows those on low incomes or charities to benefit from solar at no cost, and is usually funded by community partnerships or through donations. An example is the North Coast Community Housing solar garden in Lismore, NSW, developed in partnership with energy provider, Enova. The financial benefits of the energy generated are distributed to social housing tenants and four local community groups. Residents save around $420 on their annual electricity bill.

How Do I Access a Solar Garden?

Right now, there’s only one operational solar garden in Australia (the Enova project), but works are underway for a second in Haystacks, which will be of the community variety. Furthermore, if the Labor government wins the upcoming election, they’ve pledged to invest $100 million in solar gardens, subsidising up to 50% cost of the project.

While access to solar gardens is currently limited, the demand is certainly there. A recent national Energy Consumers Australia Survey found that almost three-quarters of family households are interested in buying power from a local community solar garden. So we definitely recommend you watch this space, particularly if you’re a renter, apartment resident or home owner with a roof unsuitable for solar installation.

Main image credit: Haystacks Solar Garden

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