An energy switch is happening in Australia, as the way we source power swiftly changes. Meanwhile, science tells us that we will experience more extreme weather like fires and floods as the climate changes. Our energy system is vulnerable, as the recent blackouts in South Australia, ACT and Queensland showed, but communities can play an important role in shoring it up. This trend, of harnessing the power in communities to increase energy security, is worldwide.
Look at New York, where more than eight million people lost power after Hurricane Sandy. It was a massive wakeup call for that state’s Governor who turned to the community for help. Local groups are responding by building micro-grids. These are small-scale solar and battery projects that sit within the neighbourhood they power, and can be disconnected from the traditional energy grid if things go wrong. This not only increases energy security, but also reduces carbon pollution and keeps power costs down. A win-win-win.
Communities across Australia are starting to follow suit. In central Victoria, 500 people in Newstead are working with their electricity network provider to develop a whole-of-town clean energy plan. It’s not just existing communities that are seeing the potential of generating their own power, either. Property developers, including those behind a new suburb in Canberra, want to power neighbourhoods locally.
The more that electricity is generated and used close to the source, the less we need to rely on large and expensive transmission lines; like those destroyed in South Australia’s recent megastorm. As Australia moves to protect its energy system from climate change, it is clear that community-level clean energy can play an important and big part in securing our energy future.
Nicky Ison is the cofounder of the Community Power Agency