A co-operative group committed to advancing renewable energy in Sydney is set to install a community-owned solar power plant on a brewery in Newtown, after receiving grant funding from the City of Sydney.

It is thought that once the solar panels are switched on, the project will be the first of its kind operating in an Australian capital city.

Under the city’s Environmental Performance – Innovation Grant Program, $44,000 has been awarded to the Pingala community group to help it further solar community energy in Sydney.

Named after the yoga channel associated with solar energies, the group aims to reduce local dependence on fossil fuels and is currently working to purchase and install solar photovoltaic panels at the Young Henrys brewery in Newtown.

How the project works

The panels will be bought by the community group and installed by a solar company on the roof of the Young Henrys building, with the brewery using the 30-kilowatt system (which will provide around a quarter of the site’s total energy needs) to power their brewing process via a lease agreement.

Revenue generated from the agreement will go towards paying off the project, at which time ownership will go to Young Henrys. According to Pingala volunteer Tom Nockolds, this could take around 10 years, after which time the brewer will “have free solar for the rest of the panels’ working life” – around 30 years – and have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 127 tonnes a year.

Speaking to The Fifth Estate, Mr Nockolds said the City of Sydney grant will be used to pay for legal and accounting services, which will help turn the plans into reality. He said once the paperwork has been drawn up, the solar project could come online in “early 2016?, making it the first of its kind operating in an Australian capital city.

It is thought that once the solar panels are switched on, the project will be the first of its kind operating in an Australian capital city.

Young Henrys owner Oscar McMahon said: “We’re very proud to be the host site for Pingala.

“This project is run by great people looking to change the world but starting in their own backyard.

“It’s an amazing concept for us to be reducing our carbon footprint and producing local beer from locally-owned, renewable green energy in the heart of our community.”

Head brewer Richard Adamson added: “The feedback we have received from the local community is that a lot of individuals that either rent and live in apartments are unable to directly participate in the solar harvesting of electricity. We have always been striving to involve our community in our business and this is a great way for us to do the right thing my the environment and give back to the people around us.”

Opening up opportunities for everyday people to participate in the solar revolution

Mr Nockolds told The Fifth Estate solar power was chosen as it is “an established and wide-spread technology in Australia” and “the best-suited green technology for the urban city environment”.

“Digging up coal in the Hunter Valley, burning it in power stations in Lake Macquarie and raining pollution on those distant communities used to be the only way of generating power,” he said. “But now there are other ways. We know that it’s entirely feasible to install local renewable energy, such as solar, right here in Sydney, which can meet most of our energy needs. And we can actually start doing it ourselves.”

He added that as well as being environmentally beneficial, community energy projects such as this also helped to build “strong community links, as the local population are invested in the future of a local business”.

“There’s clearly a solar revolution sweeping the country and a clean energy revolution right around the world, and part of what we’re about is opening up the opportunities for everyday people right here in Sydney to participate in the solar revolution.”

Pingala volunteer Jake Steele said he hoped the group’s work would help remove barriers for other clean energy projects in the city and establish a model for similar projects across the country.

“Our vision is for a clean energy future where everybody can share in the benefits that come from solar,” he said.

“We are showing by doing to inspire and encourage other community groups to set up solar systems of their own.”

Mr Nockolds added that the group was already working with three remote NSW Indigenous communities to help “get them to the point where they can take control of their energy”.

The Pingala project has been welcomed by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who said it demonstrated that it was “technically and economically feasible for Sydneysiders to get on board with community energy”.

“[Sydney’s] renewable energy master plan commits us to 30 per cent renewable electricity by 2030,” Ms Moore said. “We have already installed solar across 28 sites, including libraries, community centres and swimming pools. With community groups like Pingala on board we can make the shift to renewable energy even faster.”

The City of Sydney has awarded a similar grant to the community-owned Sydney Renewable Power Company so that it can install a 520-kilowatt solar power plant on the rooftop of the new International Convention Centre Sydney, which is expected to open at the end of 2016.

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  1. Solar panels are the new tech that provides with adequate power decreasing the utility bills. This does not come cheap, the only reason why not every house has them. Solar panels function throughout the day even in daylight, and for homes can be installed on the roof.