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Solar panels on community housing. Photo courtesy of CORENA.

Clean Power

Funding Solar For Schools & Community Housing In Australia

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In this time of global cost of living crisis, community housing tenants in Adelaide’s north will enjoy reduced power bills following the installation this month of solar panels on their roofs. The organization Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia (CORENA) has partnered with Believe Housing (formerly known as Anglicare) to provide solar panels on 13 community housing properties in Adelaide, South Australia.

Solar power on community housing in Australia. Photo courtesy of CORENA.

A AU$100,000 interest-free loan was provided to Believe by CORENA, an Australian Climate Action Charity. The 369 Labs smart solar systems and panels are expected to reduce annual electricity costs by up to 30% per year.

“Believe Housing Australia is a nationally accredited tier one community housing provider with more than 20 years’ experience in delivering safe and secure social and affordable housing, and tenancy services. They own or manage more than 2,000 homes and support around 5,000 tenants who are mainly people on low incomes, including those who have experienced homelessness, young and older people, First Nations people, individuals living with disability and mental health issues, survivors of domestic violence, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds. Believe Housing Australia is part of the AnglicareSA family, which means tenants have access to a wide range of support services.” 

Solar panels on community housing in Australia. Photo courtesy of CORENA.

“The partnership with CORENA, AnglicareSA, 369 Labs, and Beat Energy means our tenants can reduce their cost of living and their carbon footprint,” Believe Housing Australia’s Executive General Manager, Stacey Northover, said. “The solar systems are fully paid for, maintained and owned by AnglicareSA and Believe Housing Australia leaving tenants with no installation expenses.”

“With no out-of-pocket expenses for tenants, this solar initiative helps to reduce bills, contribute positively to the environment, and educate our tenants to better understand and control how and when to use energy throughout the day.”

The installation will include a Pulse home monitoring system connected to a centralised monitoring and control system. The Pulse system includes an in-home display and smart device app which shows energy consumption and solar production in real time. The in-home display shows when excess solar power is available, allowing residents to shift their energy use to make the most of their low-cost solar electricity. This patented Australian innovation is a powerful tool which allows residents to reduce their carbon emissions and energy costs even further.

“As we work towards our goal of increasing the supply of social and affordable housing in South Australia, we’re committed to ensuring that we’re developing sustainable homes suitable for the long-term,” Ms. Northover added. “With the panel installations recently completed, tenants will soon begin reaping the benefits of their newly solar-powered homes.”

Believe Housing Australia has a portfolio of 70 social housing properties now powered by solar. CORENA’s Head of Operations, Sarah McCabe, congratulated Believe Housing Australia and 369 Labs on the innovative project. “We would love to hear from other community housing providers looking to implement similar climate projects.”

Ms. McCabe said the loan was provided entirely from community donations by people across Australia who donate to CORENA’s revolving climate fund. “We assist community organisations to fund projects to reduce their carbon emissions,” she said. “This is our fiftieth climate action project, and we have provided more than $1.15M in interest-free loans for community organisations to reduce their emissions.”

These systems use patented hardware/software that allows landlords to install solar and then sell the solar power to the tenants, at a rate that is much lower than grid costs, while Believe Housing Australia and Anglicare SA still receive income from the systems to pay off their loan. This addresses one of the major barriers to community housing organisations installing solar panels.

Beat Energy co-founder and CEO Domenico Gelonese said the average household can expect to save between 15 and 30 per cent on their energy costs. “Twenty-five per cent of all Australian householders are tenants, and unfortunately the majority have been left out of the renewable energy market, meaning their energy costs continue to rise,” he said. “Installation of our smart solar platform unlocks access to solar for tenants.”

The 13 × 5.81 kW solar electricity systems with 5 kW Goodwe inverters have been installed with Pulse Embermeters and a Beatbox energy metering unit. The expected savings per system are in the range of AU$1,340 per year with significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Inspecting the Powerbox. Photo courtesy of CORENA.

CORENA has also recently funded the New South Wales Central Coast Steiner School for the completion of its 100 kW rooftop solar system. An initial 30 kW of solar panels were installed on the school gymnasium roof in 2022. Now an additional 70 kW of panels have commenced operation on the roof of the school’s newly constructed performing arts centre.

Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia (CORENA) provided an interest-free loan for $68,094, with the school funding the remainder of the $74,903.40 full cost of the 100 kW solar installation. The loan was provided using pooled donations from people across Australia, who donate to CORENA’s revolving climate fund, which assists community organisations in funding projects to reduce their carbon emissions.

It is expected that the 260-panel combined solar installation will avoid an estimated 127,750 kWh of grid electricity/year, which is equivalent to 23 average homes using zero-emission renewable energy instead of grid electricity. It’s expected that solar will reduce the school’s electricity bills by $12,000 per year, and the CORENA loan will be repaid using these savings in 5.5 years.

School Principal Rosemary Michalowski states, “The Central Coast Steiner School is committed to its ethos of sustainability. We have many more exciting plans for the future that will continue our goal to reduce the school’s carbon footprint. The installation of this 100 kW system is a step in the right direction to allow our vision to become reality.”

Photo courtesy of CORENA.

CORENA operates Australia’s longest running donor-driven revolving fund for practical climate action. The fund offers interest-free loans to not-for-profit community and social-enterprise organisations to pay for projects that reduce carbon emissions. Citizens who want to reduce emissions make donations via the CORENA website to collectively crowdfund the loans for these projects. These donations are then returned to the fund in the form of loan repayments, and these funds, plus additional donations, are then used again to fund future projects.

This is CORENA’s fourth interest-free loan to education facilities, following the completion of climate projects at Beechworth Montessori School (Victoria), Robert Menzies College (NSW), and Tarremah Steiner School (Tasmania).

To date, CORENA’s 51 completed projects have avoided 4,033 MWh of grid electricity, which equates to 300 average households having switched to 100% renewable energy instead of grid electricity. In addition to other project types funded, CORENA has funded or partly funded a collective total of more than 1,000 kW of solar installations.

Community organisations are encouraged to apply for an interest-free loan — to install solar systems, improve their energy efficiency, replace gas appliances with efficient electric alternatives, or purchase electric vehicles. CORENA can provide technical advice and assistance. See the CORENA website for full details. Donations to fund CORENA loans can also be made on the website.

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