NSW community energy retailer Enova has launched a first-of-its kind project that will enable renters and others who can’t intall rooftop solar to invest in a “solar garden” and benefit from reduced bills.
The idea is to build a 99kW rooftop solar system – most likely on a business – and “sell” the panels in 1kW chucks to consumers that can’t put solar on their own roofs, either because they are renting, they live in apartments, in houses that are shaded, or can’t afford to invest in a whole system.
Enova held a public meeting in the northern Rivers town of Brunswick Heads on Tuesday to sell the idea, which it says could be the first of many such “solar gardens”, particularly as it moves into the major metropolitan markets of Newcastle and Sydney early next year.
“We’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Enova chair Alison Crook said. “People have been saying they want to install solar but they can’t do it …. this makes rooftop solar more affordable and accessible for everyone. We didn’t think that we’d be able to offer this so quickly – but it is here.”
The savings from a solar garden are not as great as having your own rooftop solar, but according to Enova’s numbers they are substantial, and can offer a rapid payback time.
Customers will be able to buy capacity in increments of 1kW. The upfront price is expected to be $1,000 for each 1kW, and the returns could up to to 23 per cent a year (in the form of a $230 reduction in annual energy bills for each kW).
That represents a payback of less than 5 years. The deal lasts for 20 years.
The returns, or payback, will depend on where the panels are situated, and what use the “host” makes of them.
If most of the output is consumed by the host, then the higher the returns. The host gets the panels for free and pays a not-for-profit subsidiary of Enova for the output, and that money is in turn passed on to the solar garden investors as a rebate on a pro-rate basis.
Enova presented modelling suggesting the returns could be between 8 per cent and 23 per cent, depnding on the size of the system and its use by the host.
Because it comes in the form of a rebate, it will not be taxable, so it is still way higher than bank interest, but Enova says it will seek an installation that delivers returns at the top end of the range.
“The timing of this couldn’t be better now that we’re seeing the Federal Government yet again sideline meaningful long-term strategic policy around renewable energy, and indicate that it will scrap renewable subsidies by 2020,” Enova managing director Tony Pfeiffer says.
“In the wake of this news, communities need to take their own action, and Enova Community Energy is now making that possible with the launch of the region’s first solar garden,” he says.
The investment, or “membership”, are portable – so they renters can still get their rebate if they move houses, but stay with Enova as a supplier. They can also be sold. And they can be bought as gifts – so long as the recipient is an Enova customer.
Crook says community-owned initiatives such as these will be the way of the future.
”The existing energy generation model is changing, and this is just one example of a cooperative model that puts energy production into the hands of the community and decentralizes the energy grid.
“As time goes on we will see a lot more of these initiatives, as has been the case particularly in Europe where the push for renewable energy is very strong. “