Frontier Impact Group has created a toolkit to make it simpler for community energy groups to secure funding and understand the various financial model options available, so that they can take control of their community’s energy use, lower power bills and cut pollution.

In Australia, there are already more than 50 community energy projects up and running and demand is growing.

Community energy involves a group of people developing, operating and benefitting from their own renewable energy initiatives. They can be formed based on a common interest or geographical location, such as a town or suburb.

“People keep telling us that a key barrier between getting a project up and running is securing funding, or understanding complex financial models,” says Frontier Impact Group managing director Jennifer Lauber Patterson.

“This toolkit is designed to improve the financial literacy of enthusiastic community energy developers and increase the likelihood their projects are appropriately funded.”

Tips for beginners

The toolkit comprises a Funding Basics Guidebook and a Behind the Meter Solar PV guidebook, designed in collaboration with community energy groups that have managed to successfully fund their projects.

In Australia, “behind the meter” solar projects are the most likely to be commercially viable, and are easier to replicate. The details of two successful case studies from NSW are included: Repower Shoalhaven’s solar photovoltaic (PV) project on a bowling and recreation club, and Pingala’s Young Henry’s Pub solar PV project.

“If the toolkit had been available when we first started our project it would have fast tracked it significantly,” said Tom Nockolds of Pingala. “We used it at a later stage of the project and it still assisted us in validating our own financial modelling at a lower cost that would have otherwise been possible.”

Ask the experts

The toolkit was developed thanks to a $296,000 grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. It was supported by a steering group that included representatives of ARENA, the NSW Government, Community for Clean Energy (C4CE), Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Community Power Agency and Embark.

Lauber Patterson said that there has already been demand from community energy groups to develop additional guidebooks that explain grid-connected solar PV, bioenergy and wind projects, as well as energy storage projects.

“Our thoughts are to develop community champions in utilising the toolkit so that financial literacy is increased and solar projects can be rolled out in shorter timeframes and at lower cost,” she said.