Helping small communities become renewable energy powerhouses
They call it the trilemma.
Electricity bills and carbon emissions both continue to rise, while supply is at times unstable during times of peak demand.
Is it any wonder that, across Australia, towns and communities are beginning to explore how they might take charge of their energy supply? How they can harness their collective ability to generate and purchase power and play their part in accelerating a much-needed shift to renewable energy?
But it’s not easy to do.
A shared, collective electricity generator – such as a solar farm – can provide reliable, predictable and affordable energy for an entire community. Paired with storage it can be a long-term asset that serves businesses, industry and homeowners alike.
It offers resilience and self-sufficiency during times, such as heatwaves and bushfires, when network supply is badly needed but can be potentially unreliable. And it can build on existing feelings of community, creating shared value and a sense of pride that is truly empowering.
We’ve seen this approach begin to work in a community like Victoria’s Yackandandah, which has adopted an ambitious goal of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022.
But setting up such an asset requires seed funding that can be substantial. It requires expertise and it requires somebody with the connections and drive to work with community members to pursue the desired outcome.
That’s where we can help.
ThinkPlace was in another Victorian town – Healesville -- this week, presenting a vision for how these kind of community-based renewable energy schemes might soon function. A packed hall of 250 people came to discuss their hopes for energy self-sufficiency in this tourist and wine-making centre on the fringe of the Yarra Valley.
It is early days but there is already a local collective – Healesville CoRE– that has set itself a goal of zero emissions by 2025. Interest was huge as ThinkPlace designers ran through design options and a sense of what is possible. A workshop will be held to advance the community's plans in coming weeks.
And other communities who would like to be part of a similar process are beginning to come forward.
As a global design network that is dedicated to creating a better world in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals we are excited to explore how we can potentially help the people of Healesville (and other like-minded communities) make their renewable energy dream a reality that benefits all.
“My vision is to help communities become more energy resilient,” says ThinkPlace Principal Danny De Schutter.
“Resilience is not being affected by crazy price rises; Resilience is being able to keep the lights on in your house even if a storm or bushfire cuts a cable;
Resilience means being able to keep your local businesses going, and your wineries profitable, regardless of what happens elsewhere in Australia.”
ThinkPlace has deep roots in the renewable energy shift and a well-won reputation in the energy sector. We worked with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to co-design their innovation laboratory -- A-Lab – which has helped drive new possibilities, projects and investment in renewables.
We’ve also worked with energy retailers on designing demand management programs, with energy utilities on future network strategy and with researchers and universities attempting to commercialise breakthrough innovations in the renewable energy space.
Understanding energy is important but doing it in a way that is human-centred is more so. We are experts at innovative community engagement models, using empathy and a unique methodology to drive change at scale. And we have the experience and mindset to co-design new futures in partnership with communities. Those designs will not only be made and owned by the community itself, they will also put the needs of the people who will inhabit the future community in the centre of the frame.