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Community solar gardens: A renewable energy option for renters

Solar panels

Supporting Australia’s transition towards cleaner energy can be as simple as installing solar panels on your rooftop and reaping the financial benefits of producing your own power. If you’re a renter the process isn’t quite as simple, but there are ways around the fact you don’t own your rooftop.

There are now more than 3 million rooftop solar systems installed across households and small businesses in Australia. Producing your own power via solar is easy and slashes costs on your energy bill, and if you produce excess solar your power provider may even pay you to export it to the grid. 

While investing in solar is an investment that pays for itself over time, renters don’t have the luxury of owning their own roof to install panels on.

All hope is not lost, however, as there are a few options available.

Renters can ask their landlord to consider solar

The first option available to renters who have access to their building’s rooftop is to ask the landlord if they would consider installing solar panels. They may be open to the idea and a few government subsidies exist to aid both landlords and renters.

For example, your landlord may be willing to install solar panels in exchange for you paying a slightly higher rate of rent on the property, however this isn’t a sure shot. Make them aware of the subsidies they can qualify for - but again there’s no guarantee your landlord will be interested.

Related: How to get solar panels at your home and save money too

If your landlord doesn’t want to consider installing solar panels, there is a new initiative for renters and apartment-dwellers that may interest you.

Solar gardens are a new initiative

Roughly one-third of households across Australia are unable to directly participate in bringing renewable energy into their homes, and thus miss out on the opportunity to produce their own power and cut costs on energy bills.

If you’re a renter or living in an apartment building, chances are you fall into this category. But a new initiative may make it possible for you to participate in the switch to cleaner energy.

Community solar gardens have seen plenty of support and interest from Aussies unable to directly access renewable energy, with an Energy Consumers’ Australia survey finding that almost three-quarters of family households would be interested in buying power from a local community.

Solar gardens aren’t exactly a new idea, the concept has been around for a while and they are even relatively popular throughout the US. But as of right now, Australia has just one solar garden in operation.

How do solar gardens work?

Solar gardens consist of a number of panels installed in an appropriate location, which are then available to purchase by interested parties both on-site and off. Australia’s current sole solar garden consists of 24 individual plots atop the North Coast Community Housing building in Lismore, with ownership of the panels split between local community groups and tenants in the building. 

The project is overseen by Enova Energy, a community-owned retailer, who pays for the energy used by the panels and passes that money on to the participating customers. 

If you were to buy a panel, you’d be in essence lending solar power to the owners of the building on which you purchased it, and you could save cash on your energy bill in return. 

While you won’t get to use your own generated energy if not located in the building, you can be comforted by the fact you’re generating that energy for another household while still receiving the financial benefits.

How can I take part?

While solar gardens are an interesting and popular initiative, they’re still very young in Australia and opportunities to take part are extremely limited for the time being.

Australia’s second solar garden, this time a much larger operation, is planned to be built in the Riverina region of NSW. The Haystacks Solar Garden will be a collection of 330 3kW plots totalling 1MW, and is currently in the final stages of receiving financial approvals and grid connections. 

Interested parties from anywhere in NSW can pay around $4,200 to own one of the plots,  and will in turn receive credits from the generated solar power on their electricity bills. Construction is expected to start next year.

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Cooper Langby
Cooper Langby
Money writer

Cooper writes across all aspects of personal finance here at Mozo. With a double degree in Journalism and Communications & Media from the University of Wollongong, Cooper has previously written sports content for the Fansided network. He is now turning his focus to finances and is always looking for new ways to educate himself and our readers on the best ways to save money, and budget effectively.