Author: Alicia Webb
Contributor: John Edgoose

There are a number of factors to consider when determining the best renewable energy project for a community. The two most important things to consider are, what energy sources are most available in your region, and how much will it cost to generate the amount of energy your community wants to produce.

Many of your considerations will be interconnected and will interact to shape the way your project develops. There is often no clear-cut answer and trade-offs will have to be made.

Main topics covered in this article include:

Renewable Energy Resources

The first and most important thing to consider is what resources are most abundant in your region. It is relatively easy to predict your solar resource, however other types of renewable energy can be more complicated and may require some research.

The availability of a renewable resource will dictate your technology selection and will significantly affect the financial viability of your project.

Resource maps

A good place to start considering the best energy resource for your town is the National Renewable Energy Atlas, available at the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts.

Some state governments have also produced renewable energy maps. For example:

It's worthwhile to run an internet search for your most relevant map as more states are developing and publishing similar maps all the time.

How much energy do you want to produce?

A second important consideration in what type of project to build, is how much energy you want to produce. To estimate the energy used by your town or region, you can look at energy bills from 'typical' households, and household numbers from your local council.

Here are some very approximate numbers to use as a rule of thumb:

  MW installed    
Households Wind Solar PV Bioenergy
1,000 1.8 3.5 0.8
2,000 3.6 7.0 1.7
5,000 9.0 17.0 4.2
10,000 18.0 35.0 8.3

Assumptions:

  • Average household energy use is 15 kWh/day (this varies a lot so is worth estimating more accurately for your town or region.
  • Wind farm capacity factor is 35%
  • Solar panel capacity factor is 18% (Based on Sydney and varies with your location)
  • Bioenergy plant capacity factor is 75%

Technology review with costings

The third important task at this stage is to get an idea of how much it will cost you to generate the amount of energy your community wants. It's important to do some general research into the types of technologies available and their capital costs. Energy efficiency, generator sizes and prices are always changing just like any technology including computers and televisions. You can refer to the technology articles on this wiki for an overview.

Prices at this stage will be approximate of course, but you might be able to find some general numbers for a project similar to what you are investigating that is already operating in Australia or overseas.

The most economical technology for your region is the lowest cost way of producing the desired energy output. Of course, you will need to consider social impacts too.

Considerations for your community

Choosing the right renewable energy project for your community is about more than just economics. Such a decision takes into account geography, land use, and community attitudes.

It is often worth producing numerous pre-feasibility studies with some basic cost/benefit analysis.

Pre-feasibility studies

It might be obvious if your town is very sunny (like Mildura) or very windy (like south west Victoria). If not - you may have to investigate further.

When deciding on the best type of project for your community it is a good idea to write pre-feasibility studies on various technologies. If your group has plenty of money you can hire expert consultants to write these reports. However, at this early stage it is also possible to do a lot of research yourself.

The things you need to consider carefully for each technology are:

  • Availability of energy resource in your area
  • Installed plant capacity required to meet your demand
  • Benefits and challenges regarding the technology for each of the following aspects:
    • Environment
    • Social
    • Economic

As you begin researching and considering the various pros and cons of different technologies and project sizes, it may help to read the following articles and report templates:

Pre-feasibility study example - Hopetoun, Victoria

In 2005, a group in Hopetoun, Victoria received funding through Sustainability Victoria to undertake a Pre-Feasibility Study into renewable energy options for the town. The research was to determine the amount and quality of renewable resources that are available to Hopetoun to generate its own renewable energy. The research focused on biomass, wind, solar and geothermal resources.

The study surveyed Hopetoun's current and projected power demand, collected solar data, wind speed data, biomass potential, investigated potential local alternative renewable energy technologies, and developed a model for other communities to apply in such studies. This report can be read here.

More information

Hopetoun renewables pre-feasibility report

Related articles

Wind farm pre-feasibility
Getting started with a solar project
Basics of bioenergy