Indigenous-owned renewable technology company Allgrid Energy is rolling out the first stage of a new business collaboration that aims to create energy sovereignty, community empowerment and economic self-reliance for remote and disadvantaged communities.
The Oasis Strategy uses renewable energy as the entry-level intervention, which can be followed with technologies around biofuel production, water supplies, cultivating food, sustainable shelter, communications capacity and health, Allgrid chief executive Raymond Pratt said.
The company has partnered with a number of organisations that can deliver elements of the strategy, including the Queensland-based Solar Relief, who is currently working on projects in Fiji providing flat-pack modular buildings manufactured entirely from timber waste, plastic waste and ash reclaimed from industrial furnaces.
Deborah Oberon, Allgrid’s marketing and alliances manager, said the buildings would soon be erected in Australia, with the first load in transit for installation in Townsville and a number of remote Indigenous communities. The United Nations has also purchased 900 of the buildings for deployment in developing communities in Africa. They are cyclone-resistant, bushfire proof, and have an energy rating of between 8.5 and nine NatHERS stars. They are also simple and rapid to erect to as high as seven stories.
Allgrid is looking at incorporating water purification systems and biodigesters to process waste and produce cooking gas into these housing packages, and eventually containerised hydroponic and aquaponics food production systems.
Mr Pratt said this was just one of several prefabricated sustainable housing options the Oasis strategy could procure.
“With any part of the strategy, we’ve got to go with the best in class at the time,” he said.
Two communities in the Barkley Tablelands in the Northern Territory have recently installed the first stage of Oasis, with Allgrid working in partnership with Indigenous Business Australia and the Manungurra Aboriginal Corporation to install solar panel and battery storage systems in Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara communities.
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IBA chief executive Chris Fry said the success of the project was fantastic, not only for the Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara communities, but for the replication potential in other remote communities.
He said the project was financed through IBA’s asset leasing program, where IBA purchased the panels and batteries outright and now leases them to Manungurra under a lease-to-buy arrangement.
“Manungurra, established when the Bootu Creek manganese mine opened, invested some of its royalties in IBA’s Indigenous Real Estate Investment Trust,” Mr Fry said.
“Through the stable, well-managed investment alongside IBA in the IREIT, Manungurra now has the income stability in order to pursue community development such as this solar leasing project.
“I am looking forward to working with other Indigenous corporations and communities to achieve similar outcomes in the future.”
Mr Pratt said the project represented a triple win. The IBA has gained business through their asset leasing program, the community has gained energy that is now more than 50 per cent cheaper than diesel generators, and an Indigenous company has gained business providing the technology.
The savings are not only on diesel, Mr Pratt said. There is also reduced wear and tear on vehicles taking the three-hour round trip to pick up supplies from the nearest fuel retailer, and there is also no longer a need to stockpile diesel before the wet season, when the road is often cut by floodwater.
“These are all the little things people often don’t consider,” Mr Pratt said.
There have also been major social outcomes, which he said the company is very proud of.
Manungurra chief executive Graeme Smith said that prior to the solar install, the majority of the community had been living a couple of hours away at Tennant Creek and paying high rents.
These people have now been able to return to country, growing the communities from two permanent adults to up to 40 adults and children. The solar has also provided power for airconditioning at the local school building, which has improved the education outcomes for 15 children via the School of the Air program, Mr Smith said.
Employment opportunities have also been generated for the local community, with potential for further employment and skills as part of the maintenance program.
In the future, the community can also look to growing more of its own food, with reliable power to run bores for water.
At each stage of the process, the creation of employment and increasing capacity are a focus.
For example, members of the Manungurra communities were very actively involved in the solar project, Mr Pratt said.
Local people helped to install the concrete slabs, and worked on unloading the panels and batteries on site. They now have plans to develop primary industry on country and are considering developing a base for a ranger group.
Mr Smith said that another of the flow-on effects was securing the administration of NTG Office Local Government funding and Remote Jobs & Community Programs.
“The School of the Air Program has also allowed us to bring in some community employment and economy to the community with such numbers,” Mr Smith said.
“This brings money, employment and less stress on Manungurra bottom line from community development assistance and member donations such as assistance with education, ceremony, health and funeral matters.
“The shift to solar power has the potential to strengthen cultural ties to country and sites plus Songlines and the ability to explore sustainable land use activities that bring jobs, training and an income – building a sustainable economy on homelands.”
Mr Pratt said the solar industry could create significant employment for Indigenous people. His company is currently in discussions with training organisations and government bodies to create modified courses with regard to solar PV installs.
“The creation of meaningful employment for our people in an emerging industry is a step in the right direction towards self-sufficiency,” Mr Pratt said.
“Everything we’re pushing for is about opportunity. When you’ve got opportunity, you create choice.”