The highest density of Australian projects is in Victoria and NSW, and the majority of groups are currently in the early stages of project development. Over a half of the projects are solar PV and a third are wind energy. The remainder are as yet undecided, but options include are various forms of bio energy.
Several key distinguishing characteristics came to the fore as qualifiers of what constitutes a community renewable energy project. These include: community ownership, offer wider community benefits (financial, community development, community building), and have active engagement of the local community.
According to research respondents the most significant challenges facing the sector are ‘financing the development stage (inception, social feasibility, technical feasibility and planning)’ and getting a fair price for the sale of electricity. The status of these challenges as the top two may be reflect the fact that most projects in Australia are in the beginning stages of a project. For projects in the initiation stage, a common barrier was also ‘having access to the necessary skills to develop the project’, which may include skills ranging from technical, legal, community engagement, or financing.
Another related, high-ranking challenge, and one that is perhaps a root cause to many of the previously mentioned challenges, is the general lack of understanding of CRE within the public, government, and financial sector. The research also found that the challenges vary based on the technology selected for the CRE project. For example, for solar PV project key challenges were finding appropriate partners and negotiating agreements.
Despite these challenges, the proponents of CRE projects felt the ‘time is right’ for investing in the CRE sector and that ‘support is needed from all sides.’ The research participants highlighted many key opportunities both in the external environment and for action by the sector, to illustrate why they felt the time was right to invest in the CRE sector. According to CRE groups and support organisations, there are four predominant strengths of the sector: comprehensive and meaningful community engagement, valuable partnerships, project teams with the right skills and sharing information around project successes.