Units and rentals could soon have access to solar thanks to Aussie first energy project

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

A new way of capturing solar energy could open the doors for rental properties and apartments to take advantage of the renewable energy source. 

Currently, those living in rented accommodations or unit blocks are, in most cases, unable to enjoy the benefits of solar due to residential roadblocks regarding the technology’s installation. 

However, a new community-based concept hopes to spark a renewable energy revolution to help non-owner occupiers capitalise on solar harvesting. 

The cost of uncaptured solar

Currently, while Australia may be at the top of the world when it comes to utilising solar power, much of Australia’s photovoltaic potential is still being left on the table – or rooftops, according to recent research. 

A study by University of New South Wales renewable energy engineers discovered that Australia’s uncaptured solar adds up to $9.3 billion in unclaimed savings yearly. 

Much of this lost renewable energy is simply a result of people living in homes that are not compatible with solar panels or in rental properties where landlords are often unwilling to fund the installation of the technology.  

The new concept gives everyday Aussies a chance to purchase plots on community-project solar farms, with the generated electricity credits passed on to the owner’s electricity provider, slashing their power bills. 

This allows anyone connected to the electricity grid to access the benefits of solar directly on their electricity bill. 

The community cooperative gives renters and unit owners the chance to obtain all the benefits of solar energy without having panels on their property or having to install anything themselves. 

But it’s also proved to be an attractive prospect to often uprooting homeowners who want to install solar but realise they can’t take it with them on every move.  

How a solar garden co-operative works:

1. Join a solar garden co-operative anywhere in the country

2. Apply for a solar garden plot and transfer the plot fee

3. Switch your electricity retailer to a participating retailer

4. The solar panels generate electricity, you receive credit on electricity bills anywhere in Australia

Solar gardens offers solar to homes previously locked out of ownership

First community solar garden switched on

Haystacks Solar Garden in Sydney, which switched on the nation’s first community solar farm grid in late April, brought the idea to life in an Australian first.  

Haystacks Solar Garden is hosted by the purpose-built 1.5MW Grong Grong Solar Farm near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, which completed construction earlier this year with plots already sold out before going live. 

175 solar garden plots were purchased by households nationwide and are estimated to deliver $883,750 of savings to the owner’s electricity bills over the 10-year project lifespan. 

Haystacks Project Manager and Community Power Agency Director says community solar farms make renewables accessible for everyone, such as the 30 per cent of Aussies who have been unable to access solar energy so far. 

“Haystacks Solar Garden has pioneered a new community-focused way of doing clean energy. It is a proof of concept for industry, demonstrating that there are many different ways to do solar and share the benefits with everyday people. Community energy projects like ours are a critical part of ensuring that the energy transition is both fast and fair,” she said. 

Benefits of a community solar farm:

  • Portable solar – if you move, you can take your solar with you. 
  • Accessibility – Available for renters, sharehouse, apartment and unit owners. 
  • Bill savings – An automatic on-bill credit makes managing and tracking returns easy.
  • Hassle-free – the solar is installed off-site, and installation, insurance and ongoing maintenance are already included and taken care of. 
The on-bill credits from a community solar farm can be used anywhere in Australia.

New South Wales resident Jean Hay is one of the inaugural solar plot owners who praised how the concept boosted solar accessibility. 

“We’re making history here with Haystacks Solar Garden. I’m a renter, I live in a unit, and my partner and I are both in our 80s! We deeply care about equity in the shift to clean energy, and this is a way of making the benefits of renewables accessible to all,” she said. 

While the community solar garden concept may be new to Australia, the idea has already proved successful and widely popular overseas, with lots available across North America and Europe.

Nigel Hancock, Treasurer of project partner and solar co-operative Pingala, says she expected more community solar garden projects to follow Haystack’s success and emulate the popularity witnessed internationally. 

“Despite the massive uptake of rooftop solar in Australia, there are still countless individuals in our communities who lack access to the benefits of solar energy,” Mr Hancock said.

“Haystacks Solar Garden serves as a template of success, paving the way for more solar gardens to follow and ensuring that more people can share in the solar revolution.” said 

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.