We won a grant from the DELWP Community Mini-grants program run by Climate Ready Hume
The purpose of this survey was to gauge the level of support from North Indigo residents and businesses for use of renewable energy and to find out what their future intentions are with respect to installing solar panels and batteries.
This information has already been used by stakeholders in the renewable energy field and by local government.
The following report clearly summarises the results and our accompanying comments.
Project purpose and outcomes
a) Gauge community attitudes in North Indigo to the use of renewable energy, solar panels and batteries through a reply- paid survey to households in Rutherglen, Chiltern, Barnawartha and Wahgunyah.
b) Analyse the survey responses to help inform the next steps in developing a renewable energy community education program in North Indigo using solar on public buildings examples (eg: panels and batteries on the Rutherglen Senior Citizens Clubrooms and the Barkly Park sports facility).
c) Use survey responses to contribute to shire- wide large funding proposals via the Zero Indigo program.
There are several key observations that can be drawn from the data collected from responses to this survey (see below). In a large part the community is engaged, concerned, and prepared to support investment in a move toward renewable energy systems.
This has been an enlightening survey to process and the data captured does provide a very clear picture on the community’s views.
Responses to the Survey Questions and Observations about those responses
The two most populous towns in our survey (Rutherglen and Chiltern) recorded 70% of the total responses.
It is not unreasonable to expect a greater proportion of the responses are from the larger population centres but examining the data suggest that there is a response from all communities on a prorated basis. This would suggest that, regardless of population there is a keen interest in this subject across all communities.
2. Critical Action
We need to assume that people with an interest in renewable energy are probably more likely to fill in the survey than those with no interest, but it is significant that 90% of respondents agree that moving to renewable energy is critically important.
This is a significant proportion of the population to be interested in this topic and should be encouraging for all parties interested in engaging the community in conversations about renewable energy and other climate impact endeavours. A caution would be that some may see that only those interest actually responded whereas the nearly 90% of the community that didn’t respond chose not to engage at all.
3. Current Technology
61% of respondents have some kind of solar technology, but the adoption rate for batteries is still low. Solar accounted for 9.9% of Australia’s total electrical energy production in 2020 so it seems that North Indigo is above average in this regard.
The proportion for people with solar panels only (89%) vs solar panels and battery (7%) highlights the amount of resistance or mistrust of battery systems within the community. The perception of cost vs reward and the long payback period is another significant factor in the relatively slow uptake of batteries.
This can be a key area of education and information sharing that TRIN and others can focus on in the near future. The resilience, load balancing and additional positive impacts of solar panels through the mating with appropriate battery systems are subjects that should be brought front of mind.
4. Planned new investments
Nearly 65% of respondents are thinking about some sort of new investment in solar technologies.
Even with the relatively high level of solar panels in place it is encouraging to see a strong indication of a willingness to invest by more people within the community.
These investments include new solar panels or additional panels added to existing infrastructure (18.4%) and new panels with battery systems or mating new batteries to existing infrastructure (46.3%)
5. Participation in home energy projects
73% of people would be willing to participate in projects that make homes more energy efficient.
Again this represents a keen interest from the community in “doing it better and smarter”, acknowledging that energy consumption is an important as the ability to produce energy. This provides government authorities with an excellent opportunity to engage the community in a low cost, and highly desired conversation about reduction before opening up the conversation to generation.
With nearly 75% of the respondents wanting to participate in this sort of program any investment should yield significant rewards and only serve to increase community awareness and engagement.
6. Equal opportunity access to cheap energy
Not surprisingly over 90% of people want equal access to cheaper energy. The 5.8% who do not want this access presumably are those who are non- believers in climate change and the environmental benefits of solar power.
Perhaps as a reflection of the mindset of those willing to respond to this survey, or simply as a reflection of the broader community’s attitudes to equity and social justice, there is an overwhelming view that everyone should have access to these technologies. It may also come from an understanding that we all share the same climate and to leave any group behind reduces the positive outcomes for all.
An opportunity this creates is for government to set the standard by installing renewable energy technologies, including batteries, on all public buildings and public housing. This would reduce the overall load on the system, reduce ongoing energy costs for those in public housing and provide the broader community with evidence to support the proposition that these technologies add value at multiple levels.
7. Solar for public buildings
The same 90% agree that we should be aiming for more solar power systems on our public buildings.
As discussed in the point above with this level of community acceptance, perhaps even expectation, there needs to be action by government on the buildings it owns as an example to the community of their seriousness in addressing renewable energy and climate change.
To not pursue this line of investment risks having the community asking the question – If they won’t spend money on this then why should I…”
8. Indigo Power
An overwhelming majority (85.7%) of respondents would source their electric supply from Indigo Power if the costs were the same or better.
This illustrates a strong community interest and willingness to move away from the dominant players in the energy space and work with groups like Indigo Power if there was no financial disadvantage.
The market is open to change and this provides a huge opportunity to companies like Indigo Power to become competitive and through pricing strategies like higher compensation for “feed in”, provide points of differentiation in the market and put bigger and better community- located, batteries to great use.
With the level of investment being contemplated by large portions of the community and the already existing pool of available feed in from roof- tops, solar companies like Indigo Power could move the model to one of a bank: somewhere safe to store your excess energy until you need it, with only those that use more than they generate paying any sort of charge.
The daily connection fee could, and should, include an amount of “free storage”. This would prove to be a clear market differentiator and encourage the 85% interested in moving to do just that.
Given the relatively high level of community engagement, the overwhelming acknowledgement that this is an issue that must be addressed combined with existing and planned private investments there is an opportunity currently available for government and privately funded groups to engage with the community on a path to higher levels of renewable energy accessibility.
We acknowledge the statistical limitations of this survey but the community seems to desire more information and a clearer path forward, without the marketing hype they currently see in a lot of advertisements. This is where community based and relevant organisations like TRIN can provide a trusted voice.
This education program would take the form of real, local, and visible examples of the benefits of renewable energy investments by the community and business. This can be achieved through demonstrating positive outcomes from the installation of energy systems on community buildings (Rutherglen Senior Citizens – a joint ISC and TRIN endeavour, via Helen Haines’ office through a Stronger Communities grant is one example) and by members of the community that have already made their investments (in solar and battery)
When looking to engage the community in conversations about community- based systems we should tap into the experiences of other (more advanced) communities such as Yackandandah.
Now that the data has been reviewed the next actions are to establish an open conversation with the community to explore implications of their responses.
Whilst doing this there is an opportunity to highlight the positive outcomes already achieved, from both public and private installations.
Using this forum will help address any current concerns and misinformation with real, local and relevant examples/ data.
Ultimately gaining access to lists of recommended providers you enable TRIN to share details with the community so they can be confident to engage organisations that will provide quality renewable energy infrastructure.
We are fortunate to live in a region that has a strong interest in renewable energy and a number of groups/ people with significant experience and drive in this topic. We will continue to feed information into these groups and to collaborate with them to maximise the potential for increased adoption of renewable energy in North Indigo.