Solar gardens are a go - good news for renters and apartment dwellers

Back in June 2021 we wrote a blog on Solar gardens and how they are an option for renters and apartment owners who want the advantages of having solar without having the physical panels on their roofs.

It has taken a while and there have been several hurdles to overcome but Australia's first solar garden is about to connect to the grid. The project is called "Haystacks Solar Garden" and is a 1.5 megawatt solar garden hosted by Grong Grong Solar Farm in the Riverina, NSW. "Haystacks" will enable hundreds of people who were locked out of rooftop solar to access the benefits of solar energy. We also went to visit the garden in the early days of the project.

Here is our founder Natalie with the wonderful Gemma, the farmer who has carved off 4 hectares of her farm to house the Haystacks Solar Garden, and Tracey who was coordinating the whole project. Read more about the trip here!

Why a Solar Garden

While Australia has the highest per capita uptake of rooftop solar in the world, over 30 per cent of the population can't get panels on their roof. This could be because they rent, live in apartments or have a shaded home (due to trees or neighbouring buildings). Others face logistical hurdles like having a very steep roof that prevents the installation of rooftop panels.

If any of these reasons apply to you, a solar garden could provide a way to access the benefits of solar without rooftop panels.

The additional plus for renters is that a solar garden frees you from concerns about lost investments when you relocate apartments.

How does it work

  1. Energy customers purchase panels in a solar garden.
  2. An electricity retailer provides an on-bill credit for the energy produced by the household's solar plot.
  3. The ongoing energy bill savings are greater than the purchase cost.
  4. Even though the solar panels aren't physically on your roof, the household receives the same financial outcome on their electricity bill.

A good analogy to explain a solar garden is likening it to a community garden where you rent a plot if you don't have space to grow veggies at home. You can similarly purchase a plot in a community-owned solar garden if you aren't able to have rooftop solar panels on your house or apartment block.

$30 Million announced to help NSW households access Solar

The other good news for NSW residents is the Australian government has teamed up with the NSW State government, announcing a $206M energy funding pledge. As part of this pledge they are investing $30M to make sure low-income households and apartment residents can reap the savings of renewables by helping to fund rooftop solar installations on apartments; or accessing a portion of a 'solar garden' community energy plot.

The two separate programs to help with energy prices for social, public and low-income housing are:-

  • The Solar Banks program which will provide up to 50 per cent rebates for the installation of rooftop solar panels in multi-dwelling properties. More than 10,000 households will be able to access the Solar Banks program, which could save up to $600 a year on their energy bills; and
  • A second initiative, Solar Gardens, which will offer low-income households the option to purchase a section of solar panels from offsite solar farms like "Haystacks", without having to install solar panels themselves.

Low-income renters will be able to nominate their homes for consideration in the Solar Banks and Solar Gardens program through their landlords.

Landlords and Strata boards will then be able to apply for the Solar Banks and Solar Gardens project by mid-2024 through the NSW Department of Energy.

Change to a Greener Energy Provider

If solar isn't an option for your household at this point in time, you can gain the benefits of renewable energy by changing to a green energy company.*

If you are in Australia check out the Greenpeace Electricity Guide, which lists providers that are bringing more renewable energy into Australia's electricity system. If you live outside of Australia check if your country has a similar guide by doing a quick google search.

Another option is to swap over to a GreenPower plan with your current provider, using your purchasing power to support demand for renewable energy. Make sure you check your energy Bill to see if you are already on a GreenPower plan! Your supplier might call it "GreenPower", "Green Energy" or "Green Choice".

When you purchase a 100% GreenPower plan, your provider will commit to purchasing 100% of your electricity usage from renewable energy sources, in place of fossil fuel made electricity. That means your energy company has to buy your power from a renewable power generator who will put your money's worth of renewable energy back into the grid.

Be aware that a renewable energy plan is different to a Carbon Offset Plan that electricity company's offer - which are offsetting emissions, rather than saving emissions.

More demand for renewable energy, the quicker it will grow

We are so pleased to see that renters and apartment dwellers in Australia now have some options available to get the benefits of solar power. If you are a renter or apartment owner, taking up any of these initiatives will save you on energy bills going forward and you are supporting your country's renewable energy future. The more demand for renewable energy, the quicker it will expand. Heavy investment in cheap and clean solar and wind, backed up by batteries and hydro power is ultimately the way we will get energy prices down and that is something renters and owners alike will be very happy to see.

If you live outside of Australia and know about similar government initiatives in your country that help households gain access to solar energy, let us know!

*Be sure to make yourself aware of all costs involved in a new energy plan before making the switch.

Header image from Shutterstock.

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