Why should parties support community energy?

C4CE congressSouth Australians spend over $2bn per year on electricity. Households and small business account for approximately 60% of that expenditure and are increasingly recognising that they can generate the same amount as their electricity needs each year by installing rooftop solar energy. In other words, we all live close to a local energy source that is extremely affordable compared to grid energy.

In addition to our expenditure on electricity, we spend a similar amount on transport and heating energy – and there are increasing opportunities to electrify these two energy needs.

How much of this expenditure could be returned to energy consumers – with a system that is cheap to run? with good use of the energy assets we have invested in? with further help to reduce consumption and to use energy at the cheapest times?

How much of this expenditure could be returned to communities – with investments made by local investors rather than remote shareholders? With expenditure supporting local jobs?

Some estimates suggest 30%. All parties are focused on reducing energy costs but none have really explained how they will get the system operating in the most effective manner. They offer pieces of the puzzle – a community owned electricity retailer for the low income sector, integration of demand management and storage into market operations, a distributed virtual power plant.

With a potential prize to South Australians of over $500m – community energy deserves stronger consideration.

There is an opportunity for each party to spend some time exploring the ramifications of locally scaled energy – its impact on affordability and local economics, its improvement to local energy security, resilience and energy self-sufficiency.

There is an opportunity to support communities to develop their own solutions, increasing the likelihood that fairness, local jobs and local investments will become priorities.

There is a clear case for government support. Communities cannot mobilise resources at the pace of the private sector and so are the poor cousins in the race to profit from renewable energy. Communities are concerned with delivering public goods, the unprofitable benefits that come from pursuing affordability for all, local employment and skills enhancement.

What support does community energy need?

  1. Funding to get started. Initial funding can bring communities together to plan and provide seed capital for projects. It can leverage 20x or more in capital from small investors and leverage enormous amounts of productive community volunteer time.
  2. Community-based institutions such as community energy hubs.
  3. A retailer focused on delivering customer and public benefit in order to set a standard for the whole market and to provide a strong collaborator for community projects.
  4. Trials and examples that prove the cost-effectiveness of the local energy model and demonstrate the necessity of rules changes in the market. Championship for such rule changes.
  5. Local price signals and incentives to support investments and behaviours that improve the utilisation of local energy assets and improve energy security.
  6. Unbiased advisory services that help consumers reduce bills, navigate the complexity of new products and shifting markets and identify community-benefit initiatives. …used to build skills, knowledge and capacity within each community.
  7. Commitments to deliver local community benefits for every new energy project and fair democratic processes to empower community voice and provide opportunities for local control of energy resources.
  8. Opportunities for local investors and small investors to invest in new energy projects.
  9. Flexibility in rule making and design to support communities in the myriad of ways they might choose to implement fairer systems and support to the most vulnerable members in their community.
  10. Subsidies at the community level to re-engineer local systems for improved energy security – with a focus on those communities most poorly served at the moment.
  11. A focus on skills and training to enable local businesses to participate in the energy transition and local procurement policies to ensure a substantial proportion of investment is captured locally.

We have an election coming up in less than 10 days and our emerging community energy sector has co-signed a letter to each of the major parties asking for stronger consideration of community energy.

This blog will publish some of the comparisons between parties, published policies, political promises and from the responses we receive, so please check in before you head to the polls on March 17.

You can view our letters here:

Australian Conservatives

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Energy, South Australia, 2018

pexels-photo-156451.jpegThe barrage of announcements from various politicians reminds me daily that an election is nigh. Labor, Liberal and Xenophon have all read the public mood and remained pro-renewables. (The Greens have always been pro-renewables of course) The party energy policies differ, but will all contribute to increasing renewable energy in this state.

Timely, therefore, for a view of the future and hopes for the coming year as we continue barreling along, challenging our old traditional energy system to keep up with the changes.

Where we find ourselves:

2018 will have strong uptake of big wind and big solar. A number of key projects have started construction, attained planning approval or announced contractual milestones. Bungala, Whyalla, Aurora solar thermal, Riverland and Port Augusta Energy Park – just to name a few. AEMO update their data every six months and you can see the project graph from December. The Orange runs our state at the moment. The light blue shows what could be possible. Many of these projects will be built with large storage as well because that is now a criteria for approval.Picture1

Strong uptake of rooftop solar will continue. 2017 was the biggest year yet and broke records all over the place. In SA we breezed past our 50% renewables target early and have solar on over a third of all homes. Even if the residential market saturates, the commercial and industrial market is only just taking off.

There is plenty of interest in household batteries and prices will fall. As the early adopters enter the market to experiment, so do the utilities – with SA Power Networks and AGL both subsidising a number of household trials so they can see the effect on their businesses and look for customer/company win-wins.

Around the corner are a number of challenges we haven’t grappled with. We already waste surplus wind power at times and we will have surplus solar before we know it starting with a mild, sunny Sunday in October (not 2018 but soon enough). A counter to this trend will be the arrival of transport and heat into the electricity mix. These are huge sectors and will become, in time, great loads for balancing out surplus electricity.

Finally, the energy industries are only transforming slowly – too slowly – and the entrenched interests are dragging their heels on change altogether.

What’s missing?

  • Local scale energy systems are a sweet spot that we need to develop. They promise to be cheaper, more reliable and fairer – we should at least be testing this idea.
  • People are missing. They’ve been insulted by energy politics and outrageous prices. We won’t get a better energy system unless we bring voters on this journey and support them along the way to make the decisions that change their own energy equation.
  • There is no apolitical energy conversation that can develop thoughtful energy policy in this state.
  • Putting a value on community benefits, and local economic benefits. After all, energy is meant to be in service to us. It is the reason we invested in this essential service as a public asset originally.
  • Fairness is missing. The economists in the energy sector argue that ‘fair’ means everyone gets the same price. They ignore the widening gap between the haves and have-nots as those who can’t own solar are disproportionately paying for rising prices and are often the people who can afford it least.
  • Innovation is missing and the system has not articulated how the utilities should do the learning and experimentation that they must if they are to steward the system to a completely different state.
  • Business models and tariffs need to change to change the incentive regime for the energy majors. We’ve left the system in pieces so the incentives often don’t line up between each part of the system and the customer who must pay them all.
  • Finally, customers are missing. They are placed in a far less powerful position than the companies, even while 800MW of rooftop solar is the biggest generator in the state at times. Flexible load is cheaper than batteries and energy efficiency can always be beneficial to the customer. Making customer participation and benefits a high priority should be in every energy policy.


Our Energy Future

I imagine our energy system could be a network of local scale micro-grids. Each micro-grid would be smart, balancing local loads and supply whenever necessary. And each would have enough self sufficiency to provide essential needs at times when the main grid is unavailable. These local networks would play happily on the market, making the most of cheap surplus renewable energy, offering up capacity when the price was high and building a local economy around readily available energy resources.

I imagine us making the system more affordable by positioning ourselves to welcome an era of cheap renewables. We would need to reduce the cost of our network, as we reduce the need for centralised and poorly utilised assets and fill our capacity up with flexible loads, local supplies and good load balancing. The arrival of transport and heat into the electricity mix might really help with the economics. The support for householders and unlocking of energy efficiency and demand management benefits needs to be relentless.

After the technical and financial dimension, there is the all-important social dimension. I imagine enough robust local ownership to shift the understanding about community priorities. Even if only a few communities transform the governance of their local energy systems, these will serve as a strong demonstration of modern values and needs. I anticipate that community energy will transform our system to 100% renewable energy faster than the NEM.

Therefore, in 2018, I’d really like to see…

  1. Co-design and better conversations, jointly transforming our understanding of tariffs, serving the low income sector, our overall vision and the role of micro-grids.
  2. Support for community energy and unlocking the economic development opportunities. Firstly through a strong focus on local resources and local benefits. Secondly with a strategic approach to the new energy sector – building exportable capacity, skills, products and services by supporting a sector to develop new energy systems, to innovate and to collaborate (competitively).
  3. Financial support for the not-for-profit sector to deliver customer advisory services, energy efficiency and demand management. These are the institutions that will be trusted in the long term to create the collective good in communities and support individuals to share their energy assets in the best way.
Posted in Community energy, energy transition, Policy Ideas, Solar Energy | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Who supports community energy?

CE election.pngLast week 7 community energy organisations wrote to the key political parties about community energy.

Everyone is making announcements in the energy policy space but do they really understand how excellent a community energy policy could be? It is not enough to throw money at individuals or big corporates without working on the collective challenges that we face at a local level. Working with communities to make our energy systems better would be a win-win-win, as I’ve written in numerous places on this blog[1][2][3].

We got replies.

The Greens are an excellent bunch. Mark Parnell read the letter, the blog and agreed to use their balance of power position in the Upper House to influence the decision makers of the next term and advance community energy. They’ve also signed up to the Repower agenda on community and renewable energy proposed by Environment groups and a public benefit electricity retailer has been Green party policy for some time.

I have plenty of time for the Dignity Party.  They have recognised that working through community would align with their agenda of tackling disadvantage and they have written back thoughtfully and supportively. Their energy and climate policies recognise that vulnerable South Australians are further disadvantaged unless we embrace an energy transition that works for everyone.

SA Best provided a disappointing, standard reply along with their energy and environment policies which are both pretty good. They have made headlines with their community benefit retailer proposal, which will help raise the profile of the idea with the major parties and they have agreed with much of the Repower agenda. They have emphasised the importance of energy efficiency, which you can do well via community. They also have an interesting group of candidates – I have plenty of time for folk with a track record of working in community and/or advancing renewable energy.

Labor were the only other party that replied. They have a bad habit of not answering questions and promoting their own agenda. I am not convinced the community energy message has been heard in the inner Labor circles, despite our repeated attempts. While I approve of much of the Labor party energy policy, I despair for the lack of attention to issues that are harder work, like energy efficiency, like supply/demand balancing, like community work.

While the Liberals didn’t reply, they gave positive responses to some of the Repower proposals and they have modelled their energy policy on the Finkel Review – which has much to commend it. I was pleased to see demand management explicitly mentioned.

I can’t recommend Australian Conservatives because they haven’t taken the effort to clarify their position. Curtailing renewables feels like an ideological position and at odds with the stated aim of reducing energy costs. I was hopeful that provision in partnership with community would appeal – improving energy independence and empowering regional communities could both align well with a conservative agenda.

I’ve pulled together the party policies as they apply to the 11 areas of community energy support we advocated for last week.

Please peruse, please use your vote wisely, please tell candidates that they should advocate for a community energy policy within their party and I’ll see you on the other side of March 17!

PS Please share. If you would like to keep informed about community energy progress in SA, you can sign up to keep up to date with South Australian energy news and/or join our Facebook conversation at Community Energy Action SA.
[1] Why parties should support community energy
[2] The case for community energy
[3] A community energy program for resilient hills and coasts


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Deep Work – can I summon it?

deepwork2 I understand the value of deep work, the opportunity to truly focus and to create the space to do so. But I’m not sure I could give it the priority Cal Newport does.

That’s the point though, isn’t it? Deep work isn’t something you can do part time, and so this book leaves me with somewhat of a dilemma.

Newport does offer a number of models though – His own involves effective blocking out of time where no distractions are allowed; going to a retreat may be useful for those whose day-to-day will never be distraction free; and separating the pattern of the year so that interacting activities (eg teaching) are only for part of the year is also an option.

At the start is a very insightful story about how Newport trained himself. Building the habit to sink into deep work is another challenge many of us have because distractions feed the gratification monkey as we try to push ourselves over the initial hurdles and into the state of flow and concentration. Newport describes a building design that an architect once described to him. Two preparatory chambers allow users to firstly socialise and discuss the work ahead, then gather all the necessary resources from an uber-library before finding oneself in an inner sanctum of silence, motivation and time. I want one!

Deep work is valuable, rare and meaningful. You don’t need to sell me on this but I appreciated the first half of the book for comprehensively making the case. The challenge is there, for all of us – if deep work is so good, how much of our lives should we spend on it?

This remains my key question. Newport’s assertion about how much he got done when he really focused is impressive and he acknowledges that maybe he pushed a little too hard and the year was quite exhausting.

He celebrates the boundaries – coming home and reading in the evening, finding time to relax and be with this family. If you’ve read CEO of Me, then you’ll know that folk suit different styles in the life/work blend. He actively acknowledges family as an important element to the thinking about deep work and where to fit it, and made me question whether it was fair to accuse him of having no idea what it is like to be the ‘on call’ parent.

And I wonder about the rules, because they made me think – what is life for?

  1. #work deeply
  2. #embrace boredom
  3. #quit social media
  4. #drain the shallows

But I won’t dismiss the concepts straight away because I acknowledge that there is a need for deep work in my life – if not at the extremes practiced by Newport.





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A hopeful vision of new politics

out-of-the-wreckageWhat an excellent piece of work by George Monbiot! This book adds a number of important layers to our understanding of what it will take to change our path.

Monbiot’s key message is that the story we tell needs to change. The two narratives of the 20th century still survive today – the social-democratic story and that of neo-liberalism.

Those stories have their flaws, failed at some points and so we can’t look backwards for a replacement story – we need something new. We need a new narrative, one of togetherness and belonging.

We need to insist on the values we hold as social creatures who have evolved to live in pro-social societies, because if the dominant narrative is one of rationality, individualism and selfishness then our values slowly but surely shift toward that.

We need a set of principles and Monbiot proposes a long aspirational list for us to consider.

The book looks at our forward path from the perspective of community. For this is Monbiot’s main prescription of what we need to build, he looks at the alienation within modern society and why we’ve lost the togetherness we once had.

And so he explores belonging – belonging with, belonging to and belonging in. He looks at initiatives springing up in societies around the world that bring back our sense of community and help form our identity – and indeed our politics. The Clarion clubs of the UK in the late 19th century were formed to help groups share time together and to create shared political values – who knew?

Monbiot talks about communities taking back control while warning against the withdrawal of resources that the Big Society initiative came to be associated with. He highlights the benefits of building a participatory culture, and quotes a Lambeth study that expects 10% participation within 3 years as a tipping point to building the types of thick networks that can make communities resilient and vibrant. Genuinely creating the belonging that we need and love.

And in communities the wealth is shared in public spaces and amenities – private sufficiency, public luxury. So the commons becomes a key part of the discussion, rather than one ignored by our modern economic paradigms.

The other key planks to the path of change are the dual tasks of reframing the economy and changing our politics. Monbiot takes his economic lead from Kate Raworth – and her new book is well worth the read.

He takes heart from the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US and believes that the radical trust model is desperately needed for organisers to unlock widespread movements. He has instructions for organisers about inviting participation and criticises the march and speeches model, precisely because it doesn’t give marchers easy instructions for getting involved and building something together.

This is all music to my ears. I’ve been reading widely about this, and I’ve been harbouring a secret desire for a universal basic income and all the time in the world to volunteer and do things we care about. I’m experimenting with online community building and I recommend this one as a book to read.

Have you read it? what did you think?




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Power, and its careless use

the powerWhat would the world look like if women suddenly had the power?

Something I love about a work of fiction is the shadow it leaves in your thoughts for days to come.

Naomi Alderman left me with a chuckle and plenty to ponder.

She creates a world where teenage girls are suddenly given the power to kill, maim and control with fear. Well that makes me smile. Teenage girls already represent a pinnacle of female power. Before the world tells them what they can’t do, they have a confidence often missing in older women. They don’t yet know about the systems lined up against them that give them slightly less than boys, and that socialise them to accept, to prioritise caring, to avoid pushing themselves ahead of others.

Teenagehood is powerful for both genders, (as much as it can also be disastrous and difficult), and it is definitely a time when children become adults and start to own and shape self. Physically, boys get to discover a physical strength – sometimes without the maturity about how to use that strength and Alderman’s 15 year old girls find themselves in exactly that boat. It’s no mistake that control of ‘the power’ gets a little tenuous when girls are angry.

In this book the Men’s Rights Activists come out of the woodwork. Of course in real life we might struggle to understand the trolling and the abuse and what drives it. In this book, it’s clear that men have suddenly lost their place in the hierarchy to women, to all women – big time. And they have plenty to be afraid about, rather than an imagined loss. Of course they want to wage war. This recognisable behaviour made me smile.

The story swaps powerful women for powerful men in a blatant and exaggerated role reversal but I wasn’t offended. Instead I was intrigued – to what extent do I tolerate this behaviour every day? To what extent to men take their authority for granted and see their ownership of power as totally appropriate and to be expected?

I remain intrigued by the blatant sexism in the epilogue. Who can’t imagine a man that claims to be respectful of women but just can’t see the structural disadvantage we face? Who hasn’t been mansplained? Who wouldn’t be listened to differently if they wrote as a man? So why does it feel so weird when the roles are reversed??

My main cause for reflection is the carelessness and gratuitous use of power in the book. Why should I believe that we will all sign up to ‘power with’ not ‘power over’ when there is so much evidence to the contrary. But I won’t spoil the story – this one is definitely worth enjoying yourself.

If you do read it, please let me know when I should encourage my teenage girls to have a read. Can we see this world clearly because we are older? Would it shine a light for my 13 year old before anybody gets in to chip at her confidence?

…and if you like this sort of future dystopia/exploration work. My recent favourites have been Walkaway by Cory Doctorow and The Circle. Let me know what you think.

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The Power of Onlyness

onlynessThe power of Onlyness – make your wild ideas mighty enough to dent the world….

The denting the world stuff is a very attractive concept to me. I enjoyed the Breaking Out book for the same reasons and tried to pursue John Butman’s ideas about identifying my fascination, creating a framework and breathing the idea with an audience.

In a sense Nilofer Merchant is making a framework for us all in this book and it is an inspiring read packed with case studies of minnows making their dent.

Onlyness is about identifying the thing that only you can be and only you can bring to the work we do together. To believe in this concept, you also need to believe that everyone you work with will be unique and offer useful and different contributions with different motivations – but that doesn’t mean we all need to work in isolation, or some ideas need to rise to the top. Merchant sets out to explore how people have made their dent, why each dent has motivated so deeply in them and to show us a structure for doing it ourselves.

Step 1 is about discovering your onlyness, the power of your own meaning. This is a combination of where you find yourself, your history and upbringing and what they gave you, and your particular passions. In contrast to John Butman, Merchant sees the whole as your uniqueness, not just the particular fascinations that have caused you to pursue ideas.

I have a sense that my onlyness is about South Australia. This is my home and I have made conscious decisions not to stay in other parts of the world, but to return here and entwine my pathway with its. Although my ideas and passions are about our energy transition, there are plenty of folk doing the same thinking as me – far fewer of them are concerned about how South Australia’s particular story pans out.

And Step 1 is not easy, it includes rejection and self doubt but at the end of the journey you know what matter and why. No one in the case studies found their onlyness easily and many found it difficult to accept that this was their work to do. At the end of the chapter she quotes J. Ruth Gendler,

Power made me a coat. For a long time, I kept it in the back of my closet…I didn’t like wearing it much, but I always took good care of it. When I first started wearing it again, it smelled like mothballs. As I wore it more, it started fitting better…

Finding your co-denters is step 2, the power of meaningful relationships. One of the best parts of this book (well for me at least) is the richness of references to studies on networks, leadership, followership and numerous other realms that help cast standard management studies into the theory of onlyness. The overarching message, though, is ‘only not lonely’. Good work is achieved together and working with the right peeps makes any project. You also need to understand how to work with people who don’t share your passion or beliefs as many different folk can be key to the changes you want to make in the world. Finally, building trust is a key to scale.

Part three is about making the dent, acting as one – meaningfully. Galvanising many to care, giving the commission to own it and allowing everyone to bring their onlyness. This section talks to the special type of leadership that people have shown in order to bring about changes that they care deeply about, because more people can usually make a bigger dent.

Overall, this book is inspiring for its instruction to everyone – to be unique and to use that uniqueness to make our own difference in the world. Read and enjoy.



Posted in Booknotes, Changemaking | 2 Comments

Our energy system is changing…

energy collage

Readers of this blog will know that I think our energy future is:

  • 100% renewable
  • decentralised
  • smart

But what do the changes look like without the advocacy? Here are some of the trends we can see right now.

Falling costs of wind and solar means more renewables
We are on track to meet the Renewable Energy Target earlier than 2020 and capacity beyond the target will be built as renewables projects sign power purchase agreements directly with customers. The prices of solar panels, wind and batteries continue to hit record lows. The residential market is predicted to have its biggest year yet.

We need to remind ourselves that we have gone from a nascent wind industry and virtually zero solar in less than a decade. If change is speeding up, we will see renewable and battery storage penetrations change at remarkable rates over the next decade.

More renewables means a more volatile market
2017 has involved a series of interventions in an attempt to stabilise the electricity system, both physically and financially. The system does not incentivise some of the assets we might need in the long term. Seasonal storage, dispatchable supplies, smart control systems and interactive loads.

In the meantime, there is a dip in prices through the day as the solar glut gets larger. And there is a strong peak in prices after sunset. The other half of pricing, networks, has little downward pressure as SA Power Networks prepares its case for pricing from 2020 – 2025.

The storage conversation is growing
There is increasing recognition of the need for storage. (the need for demand response, which can offer the same service to some extent is talked about but not so loudly). We have had good coverage of the Tesla big battery and studies to build pumped hydro schemes. The early adopters are buying batteries for their houses and experimenting with different models for how they interact.

Ultimately we need daily load shifting (with either storage or flexible load management), we need week by week balancing and we need some interseasonal storage to bring summer surplus into winter.

The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening
Many advocates are concerned that the cost of electricity is disproportionately falling to those who can’t afford solar and batteries. Our energy-intensive businesses cannot afford to carry the burden of an inefficently priced system either.


The changes in our energy system and the lack of alignment to deal with changes point to a rocky road ahead. Of course, changes always spell opportunity for some. I’m hoping the relatively blank slate can become an opportunity for communities to write their own energy future, You can read more about that here.




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