An ambitious community energy initiative in the NSW northern rivers region that aims to put 2MW of solar PV on the rooftops of 100 local business is starting to show results, with 15 businesses so far installing 124kW under the 100 Go Solar banner.
100 Go Solar is a non-profit initiative of Vicki Brooke, a remarkable “solar activist” who was involved in the financing of the 45kW solar array and solar charging station at Byron Bay’s Macadamia Castle and other rooftop installations in the area.
Brooke says she was taken aback by how few businesses were looking at the obvious benefits of solar.
“Many businesses have thought about solar but for various reasons it hasn’t been installed,” she says. “My task is to talk to businesses, find the barriers and work with them to solve their problems if they wish.”
Brooke works on an entirely voluntary basis, and she and support staff spend their time visiting businesses in the region to talk to them about the opportunities for solar. Basically, is it an education and encouragement program, a “how to” and “why” on commercial rooftop solar.
“One thing I hadn’t realized when I started 100 Go Solar was the number of businesses who are tenants rather than owner-occupiers,” brooke says.
“I think there could be close to 60 per cent of businesses in Byron Shire who are tenants. So I’ve had to look at the benefits for landlords of installing solar.
“In some cases, the landlord is willing to put solar on for their tenants, as they realize it increases the capital value of their property, with benefits in retaining existing tenants and attracting new tenants when the building or unit is vacant.
“Landlords can also enjoy good financial returns for their investment in installing solar and managing their tenants’ power bills. Then there are landlords who are happy for their tenant to install solar – such as The Rug Shop’s landlord and the landlord of the Green Building Centre – for the same benefits I’ve already mentioned.
The initiate has been mostly funded by Brooke, a former consultant to the arts industry, and has received support from the Byron Council and the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage.
What are the biggest challenges?
“So far, I’ve discovered some tenants have difficulty in communicating with their landlords, where the landlord is not greatly supportive of the tenant and the tenant is not confident to propose solar.
“A few businesses are not open to discussion about the savings solar will make to one of their key business expenses, energy, even when it’s shown that loan repayments can be made out of savings.
“Some may have been inundated by eager salespeople and simply don’t know who to believe. Others may be fearful that solar will evolve into a business expense which need not be the case, in fact the reverse! So this is a challenge to overcome!”
Brooke says the fact that it is not a business, but a community initiative, gives her the freedom to approach whoever he wishes, because she is not actually selling a product.
“As a volunteer I’m not constrained by having sales targets to meet on a weekly basis. While I’m very keen to meet my goal of 100 businesses as soon as possible, I feel quite relaxed when I visit businesses – I’ve found face to face contact best.
“As far as I know there isn’t anyone else doing this and one of the reasons for support from the NSW Office of Environment is their view of 100 Go Solar as a pilot project, if it works well in Byron Shire they may adopt the idea elsewhere in NSW.”