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Solar gardens could lower energy bills

"Solar gardens give consumers the benefits of rooftop solar." Warren Lynam

NOT having a roof may soon cease to be a reason for not accessing the benefits of solar power and cheaper energy bills.

The federal government's Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is funding a feasibility study into buy-in solar gardens, offering consumers the opportunity to purchase or lease solar panels and receive credit on their energy bill based off the electricity generated.

Almost a third of Australians live in rented houses or apartments, or low-income housing, meaning they are usually unable to install solar panels themselves.

"Solar gardens give consumers the benefits of rooftop solar, even if you don't have a roof available to put it on," ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said on Thursday.

The idea has been popular in the United States, with 200 megawatts of shared solar gardens already in operation.

ARENA estimates the savings Australians can enjoy on their energy bill are greater than any purchase or subscription costs.

The agency has provided $240,000 for the $555,000 study to see if solar gardens could work in Australia.

The University of Technology Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Futures will carry out the study and examine the viability of a centralised solar garden in five potential locations.

Consumer demand, feasibility and any barriers to adoption of the system will be assessed across Townsville in north Queensland, Swan Hill in northwest Victoria and Byron Bay, Shoalhaven and Blacktown in NSW.

The concept is already alive and well in Newtown, in Sydney's inner west, where craft beer brewery Young Henrys is powered by a community-owned array of 115 solar panels built by sustainability organisation Pingala.

The suburb's solar-powered beer project received funding from the City of Sydney under its renewable energy master plan.

NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin said ICF's upcoming solar garden trials will help those missing out on the benefits from rooftop solar power to "share in the renewable energy boom currently underway" across the state.

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