The 2014 North Coast Energy Forum was held at Cabarita on 27 October 2014. It was the fourth time the Forum has been held since 2010, and attracted a full house of 120 participants from business, government and the community. We were all there to discuss recent and potential progress towards creating a sustainable energy system for the NSW North Coast.
This year’s Forum included a session scoping the extent of existing projects in the region, the sheer number of which surprised most participants; four masterclasses (on bioenergy, community energy, storage and selling energy) from industry experts; and a final plenary session to discuss how we might go about creating a social licence for the bioenergy industry in the region, bearing in mind it is the energy source (or rather range of sources) in which this region has the greatest natural or competitive advantage. Evaluations and other feedback suggest most participants found most of the program worthwhile, although there is always room for improvement.
There was also a small but highly popular electric vehicle expo — featuring production all-electrics and hybrids, as well as a scooter and solar charged bicycle — in the car park, which attracted many non-petrolheads at lunchtime.
The organisers regard this as our most successful forum to date. We would like to thank our major sponsors, Cape Byron Power and Tweed Shire Council; our other sponsors and partners; the masterclass presenters; the Councillors present from most of the region’s councils; the local and energy media; and all the participants, for their (your) support. I would also like to thank my fellow members of the organising committee for their tireless work in preparing for the Forum over the past six months.
A number of initiatives have come out of this year’s forum. They include Utilitas’s extraordinarily generous offer to fund 5 bioenergy (anaerobic digester) projects to turn agricultural and food processing waste into electricity at up to $200,000 each; Elevare Energy’s offer to fund the feasibility stage of a community energy project in the region; and the idea of the North Coast being part of a larger EV charging station network stretching from Noosa down to Ballina at least. If you are interested in being part of any of these projects, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about the 2014 can be found in the navigation bar above under the “2014 NCEF Outcomes” button. We are now considering where and when the next Forum should be held (and how we could continue to change the format to keep it fresh and relevant). If you are interested in being a sponsor, please contact us at
On behalf of the organising committee,
Introduction – Kim Mallee
Welcome to the 4th North Coast Energy Forum. My name is Kim Mallee and I am Byron Shire Council’s Sustainability Officer. Since 2010 the North Coast Energy forum has roamed around our region starting initially at Bellingen, then to Mullumbimby, Lismore and now Cabarita in the Tweed. I can see faces that have been to all four and new people I hope to get to know today. From its inception the forum has grown from an event to showcase and discuss renewable energy to a network of highly skilled professionals, enthusiastic community members and driven public servants who are sharing knowledge, solving tough issues, delivering projects and setting the direction for a sustainable renewable energy system on the North Coast. I have been lucky enough to have been involved in organising three of these four forums and would like to introduce the rest of our vibrant team Mark, Jess, Paul, Robyn, Debbie and Adam.
Today would also not be possible without the generous support of our two major sponsors Tweed Shire Council and Cape Byron Power. Both of these organisations are highly committed to progressing the potential for renewable energy in our region and are well aware of the value of events such as this to network and connect projects at a regional scale.
Like any robust network we have drawn on regional partners for collaborations and networks within networks. While the North Coast Energy Forum gathers in industry, community and government stakeholders we have worked closely with the Sustain Northern Rivers Collaboration. Over the past four years and many of the tangible projects that have sprouted from the forums could not have been delivered without their committed support. The Sustain Northern Rivers Collaboration is a collection of peak regional bodies (government, agencies and education) who actively work together to improve the sustainability of the Northern Rivers.
Some of the great ideas and projects that have been discussed at past forums that have come to life in reality due to the committed work of the Sustain Northern Rivers Collaboration include the Future Energy Skills for the North Coast assessment and the Bio Energy Scoping Study for the North Coast. The latter then growing into the Bio Hub workshop held with industry last December where we mapped all known existing bio energy projects and found links between industry feedstock and industry energy demand. The latest and possibly most exciting project that I am sure many of you are aware is the recent funding auspiced by the North Coast Energy Forum and Sustain Northern River Collaboration to commission a business plan to be developed for a community energy retailer.
The concept of creating a North Coast based, community owned, retailer has been identified and discussed the last two North Coast Energy Forums. It was identified as both one of the most challenging and potentially most game changing project we as a region could pursue to reduce the barriers to buying and selling decentralised renewable energy. So when the recent funding became available from the Office of Environment and Heritage the North Coast Energy Forum and Sustain Northern Rivers collaboration sought to take the first step of creating this reality, which was developing the business plan.
Now not wanting to just create a business plan for the sake of it but actually create the energy retailer, we asked parties to only submit proposals who were also prepared to lodge an application to the Australian Energy Regulator for an operating license and ultimately run the retailer. A key focus on our request for proposals was a deep commitment to establishing a community owned retailer rooted in the Northern Rivers. The development of the business plan will reveal the financial viability of this aim but we were very keen to see if this high bar we had set for our region could be achieved to this original intent. We received three proposals and never before in assessing tenders have I had such a hard time in deciding. All three proposals were of extremely high quality and any one we believe could have established a retailer. The panel decided to award the funding to Northern Rivers Energy – a collective of local professionals determined to create a community energy retailer. Three of them are present today, Debbie, Patrick and James if you could stand up please. They will be speaking more on how they will be progressing this project in the Selling Energy Master Class after lunch.
Today we have collected an array of experts to share their knowledge with us and inspire new potentials. In the morning master classes we have Fiona Waterhouse doing a run down on various Bio Energy technologies with a focus on anaerobic digestion. Bio Energy in our subtropical region will play a primary role in the suite of technologies we use to go 100% renewable and how these work and the applications and risks involved will be essential for our project designs. This session will be the technical ground work for the afternoon workshop on “How do we create a social license for Bio Energy”.
Also on in the morning session we have the Community Energy master class with Jarra Hicks. Jarra will be sharing her experiences of community owned energy projects from round Australia and from overseas. How do they start, what do they look like and how are they financed?
In the afternoon master classes we have Andrew Simpson running the Storage master classes to show us how far the technology has come and where we heading, as well as Craig Memery running the Selling Energy Master class who will go through some of the exciting work that is being done to allow decentralised power to integrate with the grid.
Enough from me, I would happily talk the leg off a chair about renewable energy but there is much to get through today and I would like to thank you all for coming, connecting and sharing today.
This year, instead of breakout sessions with multiple speakers, the Forum is proud to announce that it has secured the attendance of four acknowledged leaders in their niches of the energy sector in Australia. Each will present a 75 minute interactive masterclass in which they will apply their specialised knowledge to the resources and opportunities available on the North Coast.
Masterclass 1A – Bioenergy
The North Coast has a natural advantage in some types of bioenergy. What is already happening, what is on our radars, and what are the challenges? This session will begin by scoping the range of bioenergy opportunities including combustion technologies like pyrolysis and ‘cool’ technologies like anaerobic digestion. It will then focus in on production of ‘organic energy’ from waste products using anaerobic digestion, and conclude by looking at the opportunities for this technology on the North Coast, including on farms, in food processing and waste management plants. Download the presentation
Fiona seed funded and is currently CEO of Utilitas, a specialist biogas (anaerobic digestion) asset development company. Utilitas has 1.8MWe of client projects in construction and is raising capital to build its own portfolio of biogas projects. Fiona was on the Board of EcoFund Queensland Pty Ltd which managed the sale of the business to CO2 Australia Ltd. She was a member of the Australian Government’s Clean Technology Innovation Committee and worked with the Financial and Energy Exchange (FEX) to establish environmental product developer, Envex, and SIM VSE, an innovation themed equity market board. Fiona has a Bachelor of Manufacturing Management from the University of Technology, Sydney, a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Studies from Macquarie University and a Diploma in Business from the Queensland University of Technology. She is an Industry Fellow at the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development (USQ) and a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Masterclass 1B – Community energy
The buzz has started and the new wave of communities taking control of their energy needs is rippling across Australia. The movement to create community designed, community managed and community owned renewable energy projects is changing towns and villages both overseas and now right here at home. The community energy masterclass will inspire you with examples of other community owned projects, demystify how they work and the governance structures they can operate with, and map out how communities are raising their own people power. Groups or individuals interested in starting a community energy project will benefit enormously from this masterclass gaining valuable lessons from projects that are already underway. Download the presentation
Jarra is a co-founder and Director of the Community Power Agency and has a professional background in community development, campaigning and renewable energy. She and Nicky Ison established the organisation in 2011, motivated by the power that everyday people are engaging to make real contributions to the sustainability of their communities. In 2010 and again in 2012 Jarra completed study tours of community renewable energy initiatives in North America and Europe and spent time as a volunteer renewable energy policy advisor in Delhi, India. She has also spent two years as the Project Coordinator of Mount Alexander Community Wind in Central Victoria, as well as working for a range of community organisations and social enterprises, from food to energy, advocacy to banking. Jarra studied Development Studies at the University of Newcastle and in 2009 completed Honors research that focused on grassroots renewable energy projects as effective responses to climate change using innovative economic practices. She is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of New South Wales. She is researching the potential for community energy projects to contribute positive social, economic and environmental outcomes for regional communities in Australia. Her research focuses on community engagement, social enterprise models and diverse economic arrangements that community energy projects use.
Masterclass 2A – Storage
A major challenge for wind and solar energy in the past has been the intermittent supply of energy throughout the day and over a year. Fortunately this is a fast-changing space, and as various types of batteries become more cost effective this challenge is being overcome. The growing uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) has helped to drive battery development but how far away is individual and community energy self sufficiency? This masterclass will start with the basics including:
- how energy can be stored,
- what storage is used for,
- recent technological changes,
- where and when it is economical to either go off-grid or to use storage as a grid backup for reducing peak demand, and
- the interaction of EVs with the grid.
The masterclass will conclude with a look at the ‘storage paradigm shift’ – ie, what the future holds, and how the energy system will change when storage becomes ubiquitous. Download the presentation
Dr Andrew Simpson
Andrew founded Verdant Vision in 2011 to meet the demand for trusted, expert advice in the planning of renewable electric transport solutions. Andrew has 15 years of direct experience in this area, including work for the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Tesla Motors Inc from 2005-2008. Since 2009 Andrew has worked primarily as a consultant to clients across the Australian electric vehicle sector, and he is in high demand as a guest speaker on renewable transport topics. Andrew’s expertise is recognised by his invited participation in committees for the Federal Government Alternative Fuels Strategy, the Standards Australia EV Technical Committee, the Victorian EV Trial, the South Australian Low Emission Vehicle Strategy, the Western Australian Strategic Energy Initiative, the AutoCRC EV Reference Group and the Australian EV Alliance. Andrew has also provided invited expert testimony to the California Air Resources Board and the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and is a former member of EV technical committees for the US Department of Transportation and Society of Automotive Engineers, International. Andrew is also an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Energy, and a Member of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Masterclass 2B – Selling local energy
We have the energy but how can we make money out of it? Whether you are a householder, small business, community group or big energy generator, you need your investment in renewable energy to pay its way. This has often meant restricting your energy generation to what you use onsite, but there are ways to successfully sell energy into the grid. This masterclass explores a range of practical options including becoming a market participant, negotiating a power purchase agreement, becoming an exempt retailer, selling renewable energy certificates, and getting the best possible price for your rooftop solar. It will also cover the process currently underway to set up Australia’s first community energy retailer on the North Coast, and a reform underway to reduce high network costs for energy that is generated and consumed in the same local area.
Download the presentation
Craig is the energy market specialist and consumer advocate with the Alternative Technology Association. Craig is funded by the Consumer Advocacy Panel to advocate for more affordable and sustainable energy supply for all Australian energy consumers. He promotes reform of energy regulation, competition and consumer protections, engages with energy market institutions, businesses and communities, and sits on a number of national advisory groups and steering committees. Craig also provides communities, governments, and the private sector with expert advice on the feasibility of sustainable energy projects, and supports community energy groups who are negotiating the rabbit warren of regulation and policy to deliver their own projects. Craig’s enthusiasm for community energy grew out of 12 years in the energy sector as an advocate, advisor, project manager and educator, and hands-on experience delivering energy projects ranging from household stand-alone power supplies to large wind farms.
Craig will be supported in this masterclass by Mark Byrne, Convenor of the North Coast Energy Forum.
This map was created from the submissions at the 2014 NCEF. The map shows the some of the diverse renewable energy ventures in the Northern Rivers region, including solar, bioenergy, education, wind, hydroelectric, and regional/grid projects. These projects are in one of three stages: research, design & construction phases, or operating and implemented. Hover over the pin to see the individual names, place, and status of the project.
(insert Regional Mapping map/widget)
Social Licence for Bioenergy
Bioenergy has positive potential for the Northern Rivers region. Like any technology, though, if it is not implemented properly, there can be negative consequences. The North Coast has a natural advantage for bioenergy over other types of renewable energy. Energy projects need positive social license to progress properly. Social license is the ongoing acceptance and approval from communities. We want a completely open inclusiveness of the community to create well sited projects. See the link below to look at the results from the discussion.
NSW OEH and Sustain Energy are currently analyzing a phone and in person survey recently conducted to work out how to develop a social licence. This should lead to public workshops and further consultation – all to be included in NCEF News.
“A brilliant event, well organised, amazing attendance, great energy and enthusiasm, and best food ever at a conference.”
We appreciate your input from the forum and will use it for improvements for future planning. To access the evaluations summary, please see below.
The top four most useful parts of the 2014 forum for participants were:
- The Community Energy Master Class with Jarra Hicks
- Having the opportunity to network
- The Storage Master Class with Andrew Simpson
- Mapping the regional energy projects
The top four opportunities for the forum to improve on were:
- Nothing (participants asked us not to alter anything).
- Create more depth in content – learning about the specifics.
- Participants found it hard to choose between concurrent sessions – to many great things to listen to.
- More clarity around or follow up on who the presenters were and where they were from on the day. (See Masterclass tab on our website for post solution to this feedback)
Other suggestions for next time included:
- Simpler use of Poll Everywhere (This was our first time using this technology and will be developing ways to improve – Thanks)
- Using a bigger venue (We agree! Selling out of tickets this year added some interesting logistics to our event management)
- Facilitate carpooling to the forum (Excellent idea – Next year we will partner with Northern Rivers Carpool to achieve this –www.nrcarpool.org)
“We wish to express our appreciation to the organising committee for their efforts in hosting this event. We all found the presentations to be very informative… We therefore extend our congratulations to the team for their excellent work [and] the opportunity the forum provided to collaborate with colleagues in regards to this important program and policy area.”
“So much amazing info, I didn’t want it to end.”
“Great flow, good timing, great content.”