The Local Energy & Microgrids Conference
In the four years since it was established, the Australian Renewable Energy Authority (ARENA) has accelerated the use and supply of renewable energy in Australia by supporting hundreds of innovative technology projects.
Without ARENA’s support in key stages of the innovation chain, these projects simply would not have happened.
As part of the Local Energy & Microgrids Conference, held in Sydney in April, ARENA facilitated a workshop to take stock of its current project portfolio, as well as explore opportunities for further innovation in the community energy sector.
Following presentations by ARENA specialists Dan Sturrock and Phil Cohn, conference participants took part in a group exercise to identify key questions or ‘unknowns’ relevant to their projects and initiatives. Each table captured their key questions, shared them and then undertook a synthesis of overlapping themes within their group.
During the report back, groups were invited to highlight those themes that they thought represented the biggest barriers to the implementation of local energy or microgrid projects.
By identifying these barriers, participants were able to see their project implementation more clearly through the frame of innovation.
Some recurring questions and themes from across the groups included:
|Capacity building||A range of capacity building opportunities were discussed, including access to appropriately qualified professional service providers in the sector, community leaders (most often volunteers) wanting access to the right information and support at the right time, and the need for open source legal and financial templates and models.|
|Social equity||Many of the latest developments are driven through local efforts, whereas ARENA and other agencies are not well networked or configured to interact at the grassroots level. There was also discussion of ensuring community renewables could work for low income families; opportunities to engage schools in information sharing; and the broader need to build understanding, support and momentum for renewable energy within communities.|
|Alternative funding sources||Discussion of crowd funding equity and debt to support projects; and challenges in accessing non-government funding sources in order to lower transactions costs and speed up project development.|
|Distribution business engagement||Engaging with local distribution companies to discuss network connections for their projects, and explore options for tariff arrangements that recognise and price the value of local generation and consumption.|
|New business models||Participants see a significant need to continue to explore and test new business models to underpin community energy projects, including:
|Protecting intellectual property (IP)||ARENA’s knowledge sharing requirements were discussed, and participants explored the need to balance those with protection of their own IP. The clear need to share learnings and experiences in order to build capacity across the sector needed to be balanced with protection of commercially sensitive information.|
|ARENA’s funding process||Participants highlighted the challenges of engaging with ARENA to secure funding support for their projects, with ARENA’s funding mechanisms not being well sized to match the needs of community energy projects.|
ARENA really valued the opportunity to engage with the sector through this workshop and will harness these insights as part of its broader investment direction setting, and to ensure knowledge sharing activities provide value to local energy and microgrid projects.