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Australia’s First Zero Net Energy Town Could Be In NSW

Originally published on RenewEconomy

A consortium of energy groups look to create “mini electricity” system relying on local renewable energy production and storage.

wildpold

Wildpoldsried

The search has begun for a suitable town to become Australia’s first “zero net energy town” – where electricity is generated locally from renewable sources, and stored and distributed on a localised mini grid.

The concept of zero net energy towns (ZNET) – where local communities generator enough of their electricity needs – and sometimes much more – is becoming common in Europe and elsewhere.

The Bavarian town of Wildpoldsried is often cited as a model of what can be achieved. It produces 460% of its own energy needs from a mixture of bio-gas, wood, solar, wind and hydro generation. A village in India achieved something similar this week.

Now, a consortium of green energy, community, and academic groups, with the support of local politicians and the NSW government – is seeking to replicate this model in Australia.

Project director Adam Blakester, from Starfish Initiatives, says the consortium of groups will create a blueprint and a business case for the concept. And find the right town to put the idea into practice.

“The ZNET idea is to create a distributed ‘mini’ electricity and energy system for a rural town in the New England region of NSW, utilising the cutting edge of energy network technologies and solutions,” Blakester.

”The model utilises local renewable energy resources, energy management and storage technologies. Local involvement is key and is woven throughout all aspects of energy supply and usage as well for investment, governance, employment and financial returns.

“The potential value of this model for Australia is quite significant, particularly given how abundant its renewable energy resources are and how distributed our energy needs are.”

The concept is not as outlandish as it may seem. Apart from the fact that hundreds of rural and regional communities have done the same, network operators in Australia already admit it makes increasing sense on economic reasons.

Ron Stobbe, the head of SA Power Networks, said in April that rural communities – including major towns – could soon look after their own generation needs. He said it could be inevitable that all forms of centralised generation and transmission will be made redundant over time.

Stobbe’s prediction that rural communities could gcreate their own micro-grids – and perhaps have just a small connection to the main networks – follows similar remarks by Ian McLeod, the CEO of Queensland distributor Ergon Energy. Regional operators in Queensland and Western Australia are looking to “downsize” their network assets in favour of localized generation and micro-grids. In effect, they are looking to ditch their poles and wires.

The ZNET project comprisesthe Institute for Rural Futures at the University of New England; the Office of Adam Marshall, Member for Northern Tablelands; the Regional Clean Energy Program of NSW Office of Environment & Heritage; NSW Trade & Investment. Most of the member organisations have been working on the initiative for well over one year now.

“Zero Net Energy Town has the potential to create a new model of electricity and energy infrastructure for rural and regional Australia,” added Dr Judith McNeill, Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Rural Futures.

“This model may create much-needed financial and economic benefits by transforming what is currently a significant economic leakage and cost area into being a new industry and area of employment and income.”

The ZNET project comprises the Institute for Rural Futures at the University of New England; the Office of Adam Marshall, Member for Northern Tablelands; the Regional Clean Energy Program of NSW Office of Environment & Heritage; NSW Trade & Investment. Most of the member organisations have been working on the initiative for well over one year now.

The immediate priorities for the ZNET initiative are to seek tenders for the blueprint and business case plus the selection of the town for the pilot. Announcements regarding each of these matters will be made over the coming few months. The project will be completed by June 2015.

 
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Written By

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

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