Category Archives: Carbon

Should Councils upgrade to LED street lighting now?

There are around 2.3 million street lights in Australia, consuming close to 0.5% of all electricity generated. Between electricity and use-of-system (SLUOS)[1] charges local Councils and roads authorities are spending upwards of $400 million per year on street lights. For instance, a small regional council might spend $300,000 per year on street lighting for local roads, whereas a metropolitan council in a capital city might spend $2.5 million or more per year.

In many parts of the world LED technology is now the norm for new street lighting and when upgrades are carried out to existing street lights. In Australia, just 10% of street lights have been converted to LED, so there is an enormous opportunity for local governments to make significant savings that will lower their carbon footprint, reduce costs, and provide better public lighting services to ratepayers.

LED technology has been improving for several years, with current products capable of reducing energy demand by 50-60%. There are now numerous initiatives and examples of LED street lighting across Australia. The total greenhouse gas emissions savings if all street lights were converted to LED today would be more than half a million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

Working with several councils in 2016 and 2017 we have seen that the payback for local road lighting upgrades is around 4 to 5 years. This is partly driven by recent volatility in electricity markets, which is causing higher electricity prices for the next several years for many councils. The case for investing in LED street lighting is therefore very strong.

For many local councils – the 90% who have yet to upgrade to LED – a missing piece is often understanding the business case and the benefits of switching to LED. We strongly urge all local councils to spend time to do this, so that when the opportunity to switch arises, the case has been made and funds are available to pay for the upgrade.

Evaluating the business case can involve an assessment of a number of factors:

1) Eligibility of lamps

The current street lighting inventory can be compared with LED options so that all eligible replacements can be identified. For example, networks may only have replacement options for non-decorative fittings on local roads, and main road lights may not yet be eligible. Councils can work with their network provider to get clarity on what can be done now, and what the expected timeframe for LED-eligibility of all lighting will be.

2) Energy savings

For eligible lamps, the potential savings will involve calculating the change in energy demand for new LED lights compared with the existing technology. It is best to refer to the Australian Energy Regulator’s lighting load table so that energy demand for each type of light is correct. For example, an 80W mercury vapour lamp actually consumes around 96W of power as it has a ballast that also consumes power. The energy savings can be converted to dollars by applying the energy and network rates for street lighting. Remember that a proportion of street lighting energy is consumed during peak times, and not all during off-peak. In our experience energy savings of between 50% and 60% are typical.

3) SLUOS savings

Every year Street Light Use Of System (SLUOS) prices are released, showing the cost per year for the full range of luminaires and mounting structures within a network area. Similar to calculating energy savings, an analysis needs to be conducted of SLUOS charges for all eligible lighting that can be switched to LED. Councils should regularly receive data from their network provider which will confirm the SLUOS rates. These are then compared with the SLUOS pricing for LED equivalents. Councils should engage with their network provider to confirm the estimated benefits. In our experience to date, we have seen savings in SLUOS charges of around 55%.

4) Available incentives

In some states, there are incentives to help councils switch to LED lighting. For example, the NSW Energy Savings Scheme has a public lighting component, which allows efficiency upgrades to access Energy Saving Certificates (ESCs) and claim several years of savings effectively as an upfront discount to the cost of an LED upgrade. This can reduce the upgrade costs by more than 5%. It is also recommended that any potential grant incentives be identified and applied for where applicable. Energy-specific, climate/carbon or community/regional grants could all apply.

5) Timing for the upgrade

Typically the costs of bulk replacements are borne by the network provider and councils simply see billing for energy and SLUOS. However, an upgrade to LED involves a step change in technology, and whole luminaires and not just lamps are replaced. If possible, it makes sense to time an upgrade to coincide with a regular bulk replacement cycle, with the potential that labour costs for the upgrade can be reduced since this is part of the normal process.

6) Other ways to reduce costs

When undertaking a bulk replacement, it is likely that there is a ‘residual value’ remaining in some street lights – that is, capital costs incurred by the network that have not been fully recouped. This could make up around 10% of the LED upgrade cost, more in some cases. However, in our experience, a lot of this cost may be associated with just a small fraction of the assets. Where this is a significant factor councils should work with the network to see if these upgrades can be deferred to a later upgrade cycle and then weigh up the pros and cons of lost savings compared with the reduction in capital cost.

Armed with this analysis councils will be in a position to fully understand both the costs and savings of an LED upgrade to their street lighting. However, upgrading eligible street lights to LED technology should just be the beginning of a council’s efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of this service. There is more that can be achieved in future.

  • Development processes and controls should be examined and modified to ensure that all new land releases and road developments use LED as standard.
  • Off-grid street lights that are powered by solar technology and batteries can significantly reduce installation costs with no network connection requirement.
  • The Street Lighting And Smart Controls Programme (SLSC) is aiming to achieve more savings in street lighting by driving the integration of smart controls with street lights. While just 0.1% of street lighting in Australia has smart controls enabled (through trials), this will change in future and may see energy savings rise to well over 70%.
  • In addition to distributing light more efficiently than conventional street lighting technologies, LED lighting efficiency will continue to improve in other areas. Whereas some LED technologies produce around 100-120 lumens per watt (lm/W) today, in time this will improve. A 300 lm/W future LED will require far less power to provide the same light as LEDs today.

Saving 50-60% with an LED upgrade today makes a big contribution to reducing local government’s carbon footprint. But future advances in LED, smart controls and renewable energy can drive even greater savings in the long term. Active management of street lighting, engagement with council associations and industry bodies, and periodic re-assessment of opportunities to further reduce energy costs will see these savings realised.

For more information, contact or Patrick or Barbara.

[1] Street Light Use of System

Universities demonstrating sustainable energy leadership

Previously, we looked at commitments of all levels of Government regarding climate change. In this article, we would like to examine another industry segment that is driving ambitious carbon commitments – universities.

When tasked by a university in Queensland to develop their carbon management plan leading them to net zero, we investigated why universities are at the forefront of sustainable energy leadership and found the following three reasons:

  1. Leading by research in sustainable energy technologies

Across Australia, and globally, universities play a crucial role in researching solutions for mitigating climate change.  Australian universities have long led in renewable energy research, prominent examples including the establishment of the UNSW Solar Photovoltaics Group back in the 1970s. UNSW’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering and ANU’s Energy Change Institute continue to develop leading research in renewables and low carbon technologies. Across all Australian states and territories multi-pronged research on sustainable energy technologies is developing the solutions for tomorrow’s energy systems. Just a few examples include:

  • Griffith University’s Centre for Clean Environment and Energy
  • University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Frontier Energy Technologies and Utilisation
  • University of Technology Sydney Centre for Clean Energy Technology
  • University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Energy Institute
  • University of Tasmania’s Centre for Renewable Energy and Power Systems
  • University of South Australia’s Barbara Hardy Institute, which develops leading research on sustainable energy and low carbon living

These efforts, allied to ever-increasing opportunities for sustainable energy study, from degree to vocational education levels, will develop the skills to underpin Australia’s transition to a clean energy economy.

Universities also collaborate in forums like Climate KIC (Knowledge Innovation Community)[1]. Climate KIC is a national cross-sector innovation partnership, which is focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Its purpose is to help bring to market innovative climate change solutions by connecting key players across the whole innovation pathway. Amongst the founding members are Curtin and Griffith Universities, as well as the University of Melbourne.

  1. Leading by fossil fuel divestments

Divesting from companies that extract and burn fossil fuels is seen by many organisations as an ethical imperative to help address the problem of climate change. The movement has grown rapidly over recent years, and Australian universities are joining other organisations like councils and super funds in making divestment commitments. Examples of such commitments can be seen in the list below:

  • La Trobe: divest from the “top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies ranked by the carbon content of their fossil fuel reserves within five years
  • Swinburne: “divest from companies that earn significant revenues from fossil fuel extraction or coal power generation
  • Queensland University of Technology (QUT): “no fossil fuel direct investments” and “no fossil fuel investments of material significance
  • Monash University and the Australian National University (ANU) have taken first steps to partially divest by targeting coal


  1. Leading by reducing their own carbon footprint

Universities are large energy users, estimated to consume around 11 PJ of electricity and gas annually, leading to emissions of more than 1 million tonnes of CO2-e. According to research from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation[2], Universities may spend as much as $700m on energy per year.

Universities have tremendous potential to improve their sustainability performance and decrease their spend on energy, especially in light of rising energy prices. Being more sustainable is also seen by students as something universities need to excel in and as something students want to be involved with.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is thus an increasing focus of university sustainability strategies. While energy efficiency has long underpinned efforts to reduce cost and emissions, rising energy prices and lower technology costs are seeing many universities opt for large-scale on-site solar PV systems, generating emissions-free energy and visibly demonstrating their commitment to leadership and innovation.

More and more universities are setting ambitious goals for renewable energy and carbon abatement within their operations. A scan of carbon commitments made by universities can be seen in the list below:

  • Charles Sturt University (CSU) was the first University to obtain NCOS[3]-accredited carbon neutral status in 2015[4]
  • University of Southern Queensland (USQ) committed to carbon neutrality by 2020[5]
  • University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) committed to carbon neutrality by 2025
  • Macquarie University has committed to a 50% reduction in carbon emissions over 2012 levels by 2030, whilst growth in their operations is projected to increase by 40%[6]
  • University of Sydney has the vision to achieve a 20% carbon reduction across its investment portfolio by 2018[7], of which it has already achieved 40%
  • Monash University is headed towards zero net emissions with no target date, currently. It is also the first University worldwide to have issued a certified climate bond to finance sustainability and clean energy projects on campus[8].

There are also numerous examples where Universities have implemented large-scale solar on their campuses. The University of Queensland, for instance, has installed nearly 4.5 MW of solar at its campuses, including a 1.22MW system at St Lucia[9] (see picture below), the University of Southern Queensland has installed a 1.09 MW system at its Toowoomba Campus[10], and CSU is installing a 1.77 MW system at its campus in Wagga Wagga[11].

University of Queensland, 1.22 MW solar PV system, Photo: Stewart Gould

Universities are also looking for renewable energy opportunities off site. University of Technology Sydney (UTS) was the first organisation in Australia to directly purchase the output from a solar PV project and have this credited towards their overall energy demand by their retailer (200 kW Singleton II array, NSW)[12]. In May 2017, Monash University invited Expressions of Interest for the long-term supply of 55 GWh of electricity from an off-site renewable energy source. The power purchase agreement will also include the Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs).

100% Renewables recently completed the development of a long-term energy and carbon strategy with a university in Queensland which investigated innovative options for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The carbon management plan lays out the most cost effective path to achieve carbon neutrality and contains marginal abatement cost curves at 2030 and 2040. The MAC curves display the merits of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that will see the University make large savings on energy consumption, which can be used to fund renewable energy and carbon offset purchases in future.

The project also included a comprehensive engagement strategy, with a number of workshops and several presentations to the University’s committees to get valuable input and to make sure that the plan had the buy-in at all levels.

To find out more about the project, contact Barbara or Patrick.





[3] National Carbon Offset Standard










10 ways to ‘green’ your electricity supply

If your organisation has already implemented a range of energy efficiency measures like changing your lighting to LED, optimising your air conditioning, and engaging your employees to be more energy efficient you may be interested in further options to reduce your carbon footprint.

A great opportunity is to look at ways of greening your electricity supply.

It seems simple, but once you start investigating you will find that there are many options available, with more emerging all the time. So, how to make sense of the growing list and choose the right one for you?

To help you with the selection, we group ten options for greening your supply into three broad categories:

Buying carbon offsets

Buying carbon offsets ties in nicely with a carbon management strategy. You can purchase carbon offsets from overseas or domestically, or from a mix of the two. If you don’t want to deal with purchasing carbon offsets, you can switch your account to a supplier that offers carbon neutral electricity, which automatically reduces your electricity-related emissions to zero. Make sure that the carbon neutral electricity is accredited to the National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) to ensure credibility. Currently, NCOS-accredited carbon neutral electricity for businesses is available from only one supplier.

Installing renewables

If your roof space allows for it and you are not facing any barriers like overshadowing, you can install solar panels. Solar PV panels are ideally suited to many businesses because there is daytime demand for electricity. If sized correctly, most of the renewable energy generation can be used directly, without exporting anything to the grid.

In Australia, the Clean Energy Regulator distinguishes between small-scale (<100 kW) and large-scale generation (>100 kW).  Solar installations smaller than 100 kW are eligible to receive STCs (Small-scale Technology Certificates). STCs lower the cost of a solar installation and act like an upfront subsidy. Installations larger than 100 kW attract LGCs (Large Scale Generation Certificates). On an annual basis, you will need to keep track of the renewable energy generation to be able to sell your LGCs and get a financial return. Please note that if you sell your LGCs, you will not be able to claim the carbon reduction nor the renewable energy generation.

Buying renewables

The most straightforward way to buy renewables is to purchase GreenPower®. If you are large enough, you can also directly purchase LGCs in the spot market, but the minimum parcel size is 5,000 certificates, which is equivalent to the electricity use by a multi-storey office building. Another option which is gaining in popularity is joining a renewable energy buyer’s group, like WWF’s[1], who aggregate corporate demand to simplify the procurement process and to access cheaper rates for renewable energy.

Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are another alternative that is gaining traction in Australia. This is where organisations directly contract with a renewable energy developer to purchase the renewable energy. The advantages of this approach are that you can point to a particular project and claim that this is your source of renewable energy.

People and organisations also love the concept of community renewables. As an example, an organisation with a suitable roof space hosts a renewable energy project, and the community can participate by financing this project. The host agrees to buy the power at an agreed price that is lower than grid electricity, but high enough to repay the capital cost and deliver a return to investors. Your organisation can either host a project, if you have got suitable roof space, or help finance a project.

In future, there may also be an 11th option, if peer-to-peer energy trading becomes a reality. This allows producers of renewable energy to sell any surplus they have to others directly, rather than having to go through a corporate retailer, via powerful online trading platforms that handle all of the complexities of each transaction.

To compare these different options to one another, you can apply two main tests:

  • Does it meet your organisational needs?
  • What do the financials look like?

This may be a simple or a complex assessment depending on your situation. You may need to take into account your environmental objectives, staff and customer needs and perceptions, your supply chain, ongoing effort or input, and energy market considerations, and other factors relevant to your situation.

To help you get started we have summarised some of the main attributes and issues to consider. These are tabulated below. Remember, your choices to green your electricity supply are not “either-or” decisions, but can be mixed and matched to get you the best outcome.

 Claim carbon neutralityClaim 100% renewable energyLocal climate change solutionNeed suitable roof or land spaceInternal setup and administration effortPotential risksCosts and cost savings
Purchase overseas offsetsYesNoNoNoLowReputational, suitable accreditation, offset price fluctuationVery low cost, no savings
Purchase domestic offsetsYesNoYesNoLowSupply, NCOS-accredited, offset price fluctuationLow cost, no savings
Switch to carbon neutral electricityYesNoNoNoLowOffset price fluctuationLow cost, no savings
Install: STCsYes, under upcoming NCOS rulesNo, if sold YesYesMediumSTC prices, energy price fluctuation Medium cost, medium savings
Install: LGCsOnly if retiredNo, if sold YesYesHighLGC prices, energy price fluctuationHigh cost, high savings
Purchase GreenPower®YesYesYesNoLowGreenPower / LGC price fluctuationHigh cost, no savings
Purchase LGCsYesYesYesNoMediumLGC price fluctuationHigh cost, no savings
Join buyer’s groupYesYesYesNoHighSupply, contract term, link to retail agreement, retailer willingnessPotential cost savings
Corporate PPAYesYesYesNoHighSupply, contract term, link to retail agreement, retailer willingnessPotential cost savings
Community renewablesYes, if you are hostingYes, if you are hostingYesYes, if you are hostingMediumProject cost, host tenureTypically medium investment, medium return
No, if you are investingNo, if you are investingYesNo, if you are investingMediumProject cost, host tenure Typically medium investment, medium return


While the qualitative and financial analysis of your options can be complex, Australia’s renewable energy and carbon markets are mature and a wide range of support is available to assist. You can obtain much of the information online, from industry bodies or government organisations. Energy market experts, solar suppliers, brokers and consultants can complement your purchasing and senior management expertise to help you take decisions that are the best fit for your organisation.

If you have discovered interesting options for greening your electricity supply, don’t hesitate to contact Barbara or Patrick for further information.



Australian states, territories and local governments leading the way on renewables and climate commitments

We started tracking the commitments of states, territories and local governments in 2014 when we developed the Renewable Energy Master Plan for Lismore City Council. It was only three years ago, but back then, there were few pledges to ambitious carbon reduction or renewable energy targets. There was the ACT Government’s commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025[1], and the commitment of two small Victorian towns to go fully renewable.

Lismore Council was the first regional council to make an ambitious pledge to self-generate all of their electricity needs from renewables by 2023. Since then, a lot of councils have followed suit. This is a trend that is being replicated across the world. While there might not always be support for a more sustainable energy future on a national level, at both states and local government levels, there is significant action to help combat climate change.

What follows are three tables that showcase the commitments of states and territories, followed by Australia’s capital cities, followed by local governments.

Carbon reduction and RE commitments of states and territories

State or territory Commitment
Australia 20% from renewable energy sources by 2020[2]
ACT 100% renewable energy by 2020
QLD 50% renewable energy by 2030
NT 50% renewable energy by 2030
SA 50% renewable energy by 2025
NSW Zero net emissions by 2050
VIC Zero net emissions by 2050

Carbon reduction and RE commitments of capital cities:

Capital City Commitment
Brisbane Carbon neutral, from 2017[3]
Melbourne Carbon neutral by 2020
Sydney Reduce emissions by 70% by 2030
Adelaide First carbon neutral town by 2050
Perth Reduce emissions by 20% by 2020
Facilitate a 32% reduction in citywide emissions by 2031

Ambitious carbon reduction and RE commitments of local governments and LGAs:


Council or Local Government Area Commitment
Newstead Village 100% by 2017
Yackandandah Town 100% by 2022
Lismore Council Self-generate all electricity needs from renewable sources by 2023
Tweed Shire Council 100% renewable energy
Coffs Harbour Council 100% renewable energy by 2030
Tyalgum Village Off the grid, 100% renewable energy, with batteries
Uralla Town Plan to be first zero net energy town
Byron Bay Shire Plan for first zero net emissions community
Leichhardt Council 100% renewable energy by 2030[4]
City of Greater Bendigo 100% renewable energy by 2036
Bega Valley Shire Council Currently evaluating ambitious target
Eurobodalla Council 100% renewable energy by 2030

Local governments with mid-scale developments

In this section, we want to capture where local governments look at mid-scale developments. These are renewable energy installations that range from 0.5MW to roughly 10MW in size. The energy output from these plants is meant to cover the operational energy needs of a council but could be oversized to also cover the needs of the community. 2017 is only the start for mid-scale developments, but we predict that this market will have huge potential going forward.

Electricity prices are going up, the price for renewables has fallen sharply, and the price for LGCs (Large-Scale Generation Certificates) is high. Selling these Renewable Energy Certificates provides a secondary income stream for councils that used to rely on ratepayers only for their income. We used to think that 2020 was the year that it would make sense for councils to develop mid-scale power plants. However, prices for renewables have fallen much more rapidly than predicted, such that it makes sense for councils to look at this opportunity now.

Entity Mid-scale and similar noteworthy developments
Sunshine Coast Council Valdora solar farm, 15 MW, under construction
Newcastle Council EOI for 5MW Summerhill solar farm on capped landfill site
City of Fremantle 2-10MW solar farm on former South Fremantle landfill site is being investigated by the City of Fremantle
ACT As part of its 100% renewable energy commitment, the ACT has facilitated the construction of three solar PV farms within the ACT, including Royalla (20 MW), Mt Majura (2.3 MW) and Mugga Lane (13 MW) via its reverse auction process.

[1] Later revised down to 2020

[2] Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) is a Federal Government policy that ensures that at least 33,000 GWh of Australia’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020, which roughly equals 20%.


[4] Currently investigating its strategy for the amalgamated ‘Inner West Council’

Financing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects

A few years ago, there were few options to invest in energy efficiency or renewables – to buy and own the equipment, or finance it with a loan. Nowadays there are many innovative and flexible financing mechanisms available. You can decide on how to structure the cash flow, what party will own the asset and the associated risks, and how the asset will be treated on the balance sheet.

On one end of the spectrum, you can self-fund all the actions, and own and operate the new assets. An example of this would be replacing all your lights with energy efficient fittings, or installing solar panels on your roof from your capital budget.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can have no upfront investment, outsource the ownership, operation, and maintenance, along with the risk the project might not perform as expected, and only pay monthly instalments from the operational budget. An example of this would be entering into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a solar company.

The criteria for what financing options you would choose depends on the specific project, your risk appetite, your tax situation, organisational preferences, the net present value (NPV) of the various business cases and the trade-offs you are willing to accept. An example for a trade-off might be not paying any upfront costs, but having to accept a lesser financial return for your project.

The following table is meant to give an overview of the various options for energy efficiency and renewable energy investments. You can find out more details about these financing options in chapter 10 of Barbara’s book ‘Energy Unlimited’.

Financing option Up front cost Repayments to 3rd party Organisation owns asset Balance sheet Technical risk
Self-funded from capital budget &/or carbon credits 100% N/A Yes On Yes
Revolving energy fund 100% N/A Yes On Yes
Loan funded 0% Fixed or variable Yes On Yes
Green bonds 0% Fixed Yes On Yes
Operating lease 0% Fixed – $/month No Off Yes
Capital lease 0% Fixed – $/month Yes, at end of lease On Yes
On-bill financing 0% Fixed Yes On No, if there is a guarantee
PPA 0% or setup fee $/kWh purchased No, can purchase at end Off No
Community ownership 0% or setup fee $/kWh purchased No Off No
ESA and EPCs 0% or small Variable No, though can purchase at the end of ESA/EPC Off No

If you need further help with determining which financing or project delivery option is the best fit for your individual circumstances, please talk to Barbara or Patrick.

Setting up a Revolving Energy Fund

screenshot Renewable Energy Fund
A lot of times in our work the question comes up as to how energy efficiency and renewable energy projects can best be financed. One financing option is to create a “Revolving Energy Fund”, also known as a ‘Green Revolving Fund’ or ‘Sustainability Revolving Fund’.

A Revolving Energy Fund (REF) is an internal fund that provides financing to implement energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other sustainability projects that generate cost savings. These savings are tracked and used to replenish the fund for the next round of investments, thus establishing a sustainable funding cycle while cutting operating costs and reducing the environmental impact of an organisation.

The seed capital for the REF can either come from an annual operating budget or the capital budget. There may be a one-time infusion of capital or multiple infusions over time to scale the fund gradually. It is essential that the portfolio performance of all the energy projects and the cash injections be forecast, to see whether the fund will grow or deplete over time.

The advantages of a REF are that it cements your commitment to your sustainability goal and provides a tangible vehicle to achieve it. On the other hand, there might exist internal hurdles in setting up the fund. We have found that another barrier for REFs is that organisations are not aware of this financing vehicle and the manner in which it operates. Moreover, in the case of Councils, a resolution might be required.

To help our clients with setting up such a fund, we developed a downloadable checklist and worksheet. In this document, you will find out more about the necessary background work, how to pitch the fund and engage your stakeholders so you get it approved. You will also look at the financial flows, the size of the fund and seed capital, as well as manage the fund.

pdf-icon“Revolving Energy Funds Checklist and Workbook”

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