Communities must drive switch to clean energy

Australia will continue to lag behind countries like the United States and Germany in heeding the United Nations’ latest call to urgently switch to clean sources of energy unless the community energy sector is allowed to thrive, according to a senior researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney.

UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures researcher, Nicola Ison, said community-owned renewable energy generation in towns and cities around Australia could stimulate regional development, provide more resilient and inexpensive energy security and significantly contribute to climate mitigation targets.

Nicola Ison

Nicola Ison

Ms Ison said a growing number of communities and councils were recognising the need for renewable energy generation, but there were significant regulatory and institutional barriers that needed to be overcome.

“Across the world renewable energy is changing the way citizens and organisations think about and use energy. In the United States, more than 1,500 wind farms are owned by communities across 27 states and, in Germany, customers own two thirds of all renewable energy generated.

“Councils, as large energy users in communities and facilitators of local action in their own right, can play an increasingly important role in this transition.”

The City of Sydney has recognised the potential of community energy in its roadmap to move the city towards 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had again underlined the extreme urgency of action on climate change.

“Addressing climate change will require action at all levels. Empowering communities to develop their own local, renewable energy projects will help deliver more clean energy,” Cr Moore said.

Community-owned models of power generation are popular in regional areas overseas. A leading renewable energy village in Germany, Wildpoldsried, generates over 300% of the electricity it needs from a mix of wind, solar PV, biogas and hydro power plants.

Mayor Arno Zengerle, instrumental in the village’s 10-year transition to self-sufficient renewable energy, will visit Australia to encourage Australian towns to achieve the same success.

Mr Zengerle will address the Community Energy Congress, which will bring together community energy groups from around the country for the first time.  The congress, to be held in Canberra on 16-17 June, aims to address the large gap in support for community energy between other countries and Australia.

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