The NSW consortium behind the push to create Australia’s first zero net energy town has formally issued a call for tenders, inviting service providers to develop a blueprint and business case for the project.
The invitation, issued by Starfish Initiatives on Monday, will run alongside the ongoing search for a suitable northern inland NSW town to make the shift to 100 per cent renewable electricity generated from local sources, combined with energy storage and distribution on a localised mini-grid.
The concept of zero net energy towns (ZNET) – where local communities generate enough electricity to meet their own needs, and sometimes much more – is growing more common in Europe and elsewhere.
The Bavarian town of Wildpoldsried – a commonly cited example – produces 460 per cent of its own energy needs from a mixture of bio-gas, wood, solar, wind and hydro generation. A village in India achieved something similar in mid-July.
In Australia, however, it is new ground; although the team behind the NSW initiative – 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 – has been working on it for well over a year now.
ZNET project director, Adam Blakester from Starfish Initiatives, says that while the goal is ambitious, it is raising plenty of local interest. In fact, in the two days since the call for tenders was issued, Starfish has received more than 30 requests for documentation – most of these from specialists in the community and renewable energy space.
The project has also had its first concrete expression of interest from a town, with the council from the Shire of Walcha, at the at the south-eastern edge of the Northern Tablelands, passing a formal motion to put its hand up for the project.
Blakester says he expects it to take a couple of weeks to finalise selection of the successful tenderer – the offer closes on October 13. Once this is decided, a joint effort will be made to match the plans to a suitable town. Delivery of the final blueprint and business case are required by the end of May 2015.
From that point, Blakester told RenewEconomy, it could be a little as eight to 10 years before the chosen town is producing all of its own energy needs from renewables. And depending on what sort of plan the consulting team put forward, it could be even sooner.
”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,” Blakester said.
“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.”
Blakester says he expects first-step measures, such as embedded PV, commercial and residential retrofitting and other energy efficiency measures, could deliver huge changes to a town’s energy profile in a very short period of time – particularly for a town like Walcha, with its cold climate, small population, and mix of industry and dairy farming.
The development of larger-scale generation, such as wind and solar, would follow, moving power over the grid.
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