The way we manage the impacts of climate change on our lives, homes and neighbourhoods has never been so crucial. Many of us are living in houses that are too hot or too cold. Meanwhile, extreme weather events like the recent floods in Queensland mean that one in 25 homes could become uninsurable by 2030. In Western Australia, record-breaking temperatures resulted in severe power outages, affecting 100,000 people over the last Christmas period.
Building knowledge and resilience in our communities is critical if we are to adapt to climate change, maintain and even improve how we live and work across the state.
There is a lot of innovation happening at a local level that is addressing local climate challenges. However, solutions are often developed in silos and could be better joined up to achieve impact at scale.
That’s why Clean State has kicked off the new Clean Town and City project. The initiative brings together changemakers, experts, government and industry to review which actions will make our built environment energy-efficient, sustainable and inclusive in the face of climate adaptation.
The project is looking into five key facets of the built environment, including:
- Community power solutions, like micro-grids and batteries
- Designing and retrofitting energy-efficient homes and buildings
- Electrifying transport – so we can get from A to B without polluting
- Waste and how we can reduce and reuse materials
- Water management and how we can use it in a smarter way
The project aims to build a community of practice by joining up ideas and solutions. It will also provide practical actions that can be adopted at a local and state level to ensure WA’s towns and cities are climate-ready.
We already have the tools and the technology – we just need to get everyone on the same page.
What’s happened so far?
In April, Clean State organised a ‘Community Power’ roundtable. Participants shared their expertise on the opportunities and challenges of implementing clean energy in WA towns and cities.
Some of these participants included experts and advocates from City of Subiaco, Holonic, Sustainable Energy Now, Village Energy, Yarra Energy Foundation, Clear Energy, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Murdoch University Energy Transition Hub, Clever Clogs, Renew, the Australian Services Union, the Augusta Margaret River Shire, and the WA Council of Social Services.
We extend our sincerest thanks to attending representatives!
What were the findings?
We will be releasing the findings in a detailed report, but for now you can find a short summary of the key challenges and opportunities we uncovered below:
The Current State of Community Power in WA
Previously the energy system was designed for energy to flow in one direction – from generator to distributor to customer. Energy was mainly generated from oil, gas or coal power plants and sent out on ‘poles and wires’ to distributors to allocate to paying customers.
With customers now able to generate their own electricity, this disruption means that we need to rethink energy across the whole sector to ensure reliable supply and affordable energy. However, most renewable energy generation is intermittent and requires storage.
Early adopters of renewable energy at a household level installed solar panels and claimed generous fed-in tariffs for the excess power they generated and returned to the system, effectively becoming small-scale power generators. Tariffs have decreased over the years and are now minimal, so there’s less of a financial incentive to install solar.
The additional energy generated, particularly at peak times when there was a lot of sunshine and lower energy use, meant that the energy flowing into the system was causing problems with the generating system, which can’t respond rapidly in real-time to energy availability and demand. Batteries have smoothed out some of these demand issues, but they are expensive and limited in uptake.
Community power is the localised generation and use of renewable energy either from solar, wind, micro-hydro, or other renewable sources. How that power is distributed and used can happen in several ways, such as community batteries, virtual power plants, embedded networks and so on. This was the focus of our Community Power roundtable.
Upgrading the grid
Our power grid, including the Southwest Interconnected System, needs upgrading to ensure renewable energy can be sourced either from regional solar or wind farms and is flexible enough to allow community power at a more local scale.
More frequent legislative and regulatory reviews
Legislative and compliance issues require constant reviewing to keep pace with the fast-changing opportunities technological advances are offering. For example, Synergy has the monopoly on energy retailing and has to date resisted adaptation at the perceived speed many believe is needed.
The cost to the consumer
Most renewable energy has been paid for by consumers through purchasing their own solar panels and batteries, or electric vehicles, and at current prices is less likely to be available to people on low incomes. Managing the cost burden to the consumer will be critical in encouraging uptake and ensuring everyone can access clean energy.
Making progress equitable
Renters and people using social housing are dependent on a landlord for renewable energy assets – and sometimes for their energy supplier, too. We need to build inclusion into renewable energy now through rebates and higher standards for social housing.
100% renewable SWIS
It is possible to have a 100% decarbonised South-West Interconnected System (SWIS), and this will have a positive economic impact. We are currently at 30% renewable energy, and we need to move faster to increase this.
Small, decentralised grids can withstand extreme weather events, as the damage is more localised and can be dealt with or mitigated more effectively. Examples could be tidal energy combined with hydropower generation and solar panels in regional and remote areas.
Local Government Authority (LGA)-led feasibility
LGAs are looking at how they can decarbonise their own municipal assets which can play a critical role in finding efficient and cost-effective solutions. Importantly, those same LGAs are looking for guidance on how to quickly help residents to implement clean energy solutions equitably and with minimum disruption to the community.
An example of a community partnership is Z-NET in Hepburn Shire, Victoria. It is an open-source, shareable blueprint for what a community transition to net-zero could look like – including guidance on technical requirements, community engagement, and how to interact with decision-makers. Looking to projects like Z-NET will help expedite WA’s transition.
Working with business
The majority of carbon emissions are from business and industry. A focus on helping these sectors to decarbonise will have a significant impact on achieving zero-carbon outcomes.
Sectors like transport and housing need to move on renewable energy together. Electric vehicle (EV) batteries are up to 5 times larger than house batteries. The roll-out of charging stations in homes needs to speed up in order to increase EV take-up. As such, sectoral coupling is an essential opportunity for community battery systems and needs more advocacy.
The Next Steps
In summary, the key outcomes of our Community Power roundtable showed us that there are many businesses and community members eager to begin their transition to zero carbon, and by bringing people together we’re facilitating those opportunities one conversation at a time.
The findings also tied into our second roundtable on Future Homes, held on the 19th of May. This event looked at how the urban built environment and street greening can play an important role in reaching zero carbon emissions. We will be releasing a summary of those findings in the coming weeks.
To contact Clean State for comment, reach out on firstname.lastname@example.org.