Q) How does the current energy grid work?
A) Currently, the majority of our electricity is generated from large coal fired power stations and then transported across long distances through our transmission network (high voltage) and then delivered through a distribution network (low voltage) to where we use it in our homes and businesses. Over the last century this approach has provided secure and affordable energy that has served our communities and economy well. However, the impact of climate change associated with burning fossil fuels and changes in technology mean that this approach is no longer sustainable, secure or necessarily provides best value for money.
Q) Are we going off-grid?
A) No, the Z-NET Uralla plan is not for the whole community to go off grid. Being connected to the existing grid allows Uralla to import energy at times when local supply does not meet demand or export surplus energy to other users. There are significant technical, financial and regulatory factors to consider when determining the best way to transport [and store] renewable electricity and Z-NET provides a great important opportunity to bring together key stakeholders and consider solutions that are feasible, viable and desirable.
Q) Will our power cost more?
A) It depends. How much we pay is driven by both the unit cost and how much we use. The current unit cost of electricity supply is made up of the cost to produce (generation), the cost to transport (network costs that cover transmission and distribution) and the cost to service (retail). While renewable energy may in cases have higher generation costs these are continuing to reduce dramatically and the global market grows. Renewable energy also has the potential to avoid transport and retail costs e.g. solar on our roof means we offset the need to pay network costs for the energy we use onsite. How much we use is also key, increasing our efficiency means that we can use less and take control of our costs.
Q) How will this help climate change?
A) About SO% of Australia’s carbon pollution is from electricity generation, primarily from our use of coal. Uralla being 100% renewable takes a practical step for a community in reducing its pollution and demonstrates important leadership for other communities to follow.
Q) How can we find resources for the next step?
A) For Z-NET to be effective in it needs to be economically viable in the long term. In getting started Z-NET Uralla is running on support from volunteers, government and industry through volunteer time, financial investment and technology partnerships. Developing a clear vision and demonstrating community and business action will attract broader support.
Q) How do we make sure the Blueprint doesn’t sit on the shelf?
A) The Z-NET process has been designed to ensure we arrive at a Blueprint that is feasible, viable and desirable. For the Blueprint to succeed it needs to be embraced by the community and practical to implement. The Blueprint/Business Plan sets out a long term vision along with some “quick wins’ which are now being implemented by Z-NET Uralla.
Q) Will this renewable energy project just make electricity more expensive for poor people who can’t afford to install PVs?
A) Overall equity will be an important component of activities that are rolled out by Z-NET Uralla. The cost of funding solar PV up front is prohibitive for some people. However, there are funding mechanisms that exist to enable income earners to participate, such as leasing to buy (where you lease out your roof and own the system after approximately 10 years). There are also schemes being developed to enable the benefits of solar PVs to be shared between landlords and renters.
Q) Premises are rented and the land lord is reticent about spending any money, what support is available to businesses that rent to help with energy efficiency measures?
A) Depending on the commercial tenancy status some energy efficiency upgrades will be difficult for renters of premises to undertake without landlord participation. Measures that relate to fittings (e.g. lights) however are generally the responsibility of tenants and behaviour change can provide opportunities for significant savings. Recent energy upgrade agreement legislation changes will make it easier for both tenants and landlords to finance through a rates payback mechanism.
Q) My premises are rented, so I can’t install solar panels on the roof, how can I participate?
A) There are many ways in which renters can undertake energy efficiency measures that do not require landlord input or permission, including light changeovers in most cases, appliance upgrades or renewals and behaviour changes. Any broad initiative that the business plan recommends will take into account the need to target landlords for building upgrades.
Q) Are those without solar subsidising those with solar on their roof?
A) The question of whether there is cross subsidy of solar houses from those without is a complex one. Access to the electricity grid is a public good, in the same way that a road provides access to all (despite the fact that some drive more than others). There are many imbalances in how much reliance on the grid individual households have including air conditioning use at peak times, distance from infrastructure and in some cases whether or not you have solar.
Q) I don’t have internet, how can I participate in Z-NET Uralla and keep up on what is happening?
A) There are many ways that people without access to the internet can access the project. The main community feedback mechanisms such as the community events where Z-NET Uralla has a presence, via the Uralla Neighbourhood Centre and the Uralla Shire Council Office.
Q) I use a lot of firewood for heating, is firewood being considered as a renewable energy in the project and how can we make the source sustainable?
A) Firewood can be considered a renewable resource if certain criteria regarding replenishment of the wood stock are met, biodiversity is maintained and the carbon cycle is balanced. Z-NET Uralla are investigating exactly what this would mean for Uralla in view UralIa’s high level of reliance on fallen trees for firewood and with the knowledge that this is a diminishing resource.