The other element of the Yack energy revolution was, of course, Totally Renewable Yackandandah. Matt Charles-Jones, CEO of TRY, told us that having separated from Indigo and running under an independent board, TRY’s looking to be 100 per cent renewable by 2024. “The basis is: how to simultaneously respond positively to climate change and benefit the local community’s reliance and its economy.”
Focused on an area of 11-kilometre radius around Yackandandah, TRY is harnessing the kind of local innovation that came up with a second-hand EV sales business, a cemetery mowed with electric mowers, and posties who get around on e-bikes.
Matt believes the region will get to 100 per cent renewables using “single-property, behind-the-metre solar and batteries, not solar farms. This is hyper-local. The business model is really simple.” That model is best described as a voluntary advocacy group. “We provide the interest, and the technical offers. People get overwhelmed with sales and tech people: we can make those decisions easier for them. Put in place a program, the finances, show the strengths. Indigo Power execute it – we still closely collaborate.”
TRY are currently organising their second community battery. They’ve completed the financing and are now focused on the engineering. “We expect to hit 100 per cent by helping people use less power,” Matt explains. “So you give people strategies, like being more selective about when to use power. And helping them generate and store, too, obviously. That leads to a ‘virtual powerplant’ – a smart-energy controller for a micro-grid across town.”
Like Ben, Matt hopes to improve the energy resilience of the area. “Climate change means big infrastructure is exposed to climate risk. We can provide options for energy when the power goes out.”
He estimates that TRY needs the equivalent of 400 more homes of solar and battery to get to 100 per cent renewables (there’s about 600 properties in the area with solar already). The network is at capacity for backflow of power, so batteries are vital to flexibility of use. “When the network voltage is overloaded, you start getting shut-downs.”
Like Indigo, TRY is a small organisation having a big impact. The core membership of TRY’s committee is about 16 people, and there’s around 80 members in all, but TRY took out two Premier’s Sustainability Awards in 2020: one for community resilience, and the Premier’s Award itself. Matt knows, however, that it’s the ability to multiply that will ultimately make a difference.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on helping other groups get started,” he says. “We’ve spoken to well over 100 other groups, an informal, organic movement of Totally Renewables.” So on the faraway Bass Coast, Totally Renewable Phillip Island is out there seeking 100 per cent renewables and zero carbon emissions for the island by 2030. And although the movement is mostly Victorian-based, it’s reaching as far as Totally Renewable Magnetic Island.
One challenge the group faces is that energy use is increasing because of population growth, and people retiring old forms of energy like wood fires. “So it’s in fact a moving target. Power use over the past three years is up 5 per cent, but population has risen by less than that, maybe 2.5.” Matt echoes Ben’s point about the technical and the behavioural. “We don’t have a technical problem. We have a finance challenge. We don’t need to invent anything new. We need donors, and households/businesses willing to give it a go.”