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FAQs

How does Farming the Sun compare with other bulk-buy programs?

Farming the Sunis an active member of the broader community solar energy movement. We are currently coordinating four community bulk-buy programs and have coordinated several earlier programs as well (see history).

There have been dozens of other community bulk-buy programs over the last decade. Most of these were very successful, including those by Farming the Sun, Climate Action Newcastle, Moreland Energy Foundation, MASH (More Australian Solar Homes) and Nickel Energy (which carried out the first Northern Rivers’ bulk-buy in 2008). Unfortunately, not all of them were successful. These included the program in the NSW Northern Rivers some years ago, which was led by Beyond Building (who went out of business).

More recently, there have been some purported ‘community bulk-buy’ programs run by for-profit and corporate energy companies. Not surprisingly, we are very cautious about their integrity.

Farming the Sun distinguishes its ‘community credentials’ in a number of ways, including:

  • Governance & legal structure ~ Farming the Sun is a collaboration and community enterprise coordinated by Starfish Initiatives. Starfish is a registered charity and for-purpose sustainability enterprise. It has a professional Board of Directors and is independently audited each year.

  • Procurement ~ We have installer partnerships with local energy installers who have substantial track records of high quality work. See also the below Solar Specialist Partner FAQ below and more details about our Solar Specialist Partners on the bulk-page pages.

  • Community benefits ~ Farming the Sun negotiates significant discounts for high quality solar energy technologies, as detailed on the bulk-buy pages. Farming the Sun further contributes to the long-term sustainability of the region by setting aside “1% for Sustainability” ~ meaning that 1% of the project’s income is paid forward, so to speak, to fund future sustainable energy initiatives in each bulk-buy region.

  • Rural and regional sustainability track record ~ Starfish Initiatives, the coordinator of the Farming the Sun collaboration, is over ten years old and has been at the forefront of rural and regional sustainability, including numerous international and international ‘firsts’. For Starfish, community solar bulk-buys are an important part of a much bigger vision and program of work to support and enable the essential changes and shifts to realise real sustainability. For details of Starfish’s track record, see our Annual Reports and Audited Financial Statements here.

  • Remuneration ~ Starfish receives a 3% coordination fee on each fully completed block of installed solar power systems. Even so, Starfish’s personnel provide a considerable amount of the coordination work on an unpaid or pro-bono basis, as do our Project Partners.

Can I work out the financial benefits of solar power, such as using return on investment or payback calculations?

Yes.

EESS uses an industry leading software package called PVsell to work out financial benefits, return-on-investment and payback.

There are also numerous tools available that you can use yourself:

Can I shop around and get multiple quotes?

Of course! In fact, we genuinely encourage you to shop around and learn more about the technology and what options best suit your circumstance and needs.

Please make sure that you compare the community bulk-buy on the quality (equipment, installation, back-up and warranty support) and as well as price though.

What are the best options for solar feed-in-tariffs and electricity retailers?

The Green Electricity Guide is a great source of information. It is put together by Greenpeace and the Total Environment Centre as an independent ranking of electricity retailers’ environmental credentials, including emissions intensity, renewable energy investments and policies, and their corporate transparency.

As part of the growing community energy movement in Australia, Farming the Sun is also attentive to their support of communities and community energy programs.

We recommend the following three retailers as particularly worthy of your consideration:

How were the Solar Specialist Partners selected?

Nickel Energy was selected as the Solar Specialist for the Northern Rivers bulk-buy after a competitive call for Expressions of Interest. Nickel was the leading proponent given their long track record in the Northern Rivers Region, an exceptional service record and experience with bulk-buy programs.

 See here for details of their testimonials.

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Farming the Sun has negotiated the partnership with Endless-Solar given their proven track record in working with us on the first solar hot water bulk-buy.

The 137 systems installed in the first bulk-buy have proved to be both highly reliable and effective, with very few warranty issues arising.

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Farming the Sun negotiated the partnership with Eco Energy & Solar Solutions (EESS) for the New England North West solar power bulk-buy taking into account their demonstrated track record of installing a large number of residential, business and commercial solar power systems.

EESS have impressive testimonials from Councils, businesses and residents throughout the region ~ see here for details.

EESS are a local, family owned and operated business, and importantly they have the capacity to work at the scale of a community bulk-buy program ~ which is essential for the quality of project coordination, communications and customer service.

EESS have reduced their cost-plus-margin from 25% to 15% for this community program.

Lastly, EESS are a member of the Northern Inland Sustainable Business Network.

How do I work out the best and options for my solar power system?

After you have registered your interest in the bulk-buy, the Solar Specialist (Nickel Energy or EESS) will arrange a time with you for a free site visit and quote.

There are a range of system sizes and configurations available.

The optimum size solar power system for your house, business or farm is based on your energy consumption, time-of-day usage pattern and issues such as roof size, roof aspect and shading.

Your own objectives in regard to the level of energy self-sufficiency you want to achieve is also a consideration. Other considerations are the up-front investment and life-time financial returns you are seeking.

EESS policy is to also do an energy assessment ~ particularly to ensure than any recommended solar installations takes into account potential energy efficiency and saving upgrades. For example, if a household is using lots of power on an electric hot water system, it is recommended to prioritise solar hot water first over solar power.

Why did you select the panels, inverters and batteries you are offering?

As a community and sustainability enterprise, it is important for Farming the Sun to only use high quality and long-lasting technologies. Our focus for the bulk-buys has been to negotiate the best possible discount on the highest of quality equipment and installation.

All of the brands being used for the community bulk-buys are Tier 1 (top 2% of quality) products, which come with a strong reputation.

The solar panels have 25 year performance warranties; the inverters have 5-10 year warranties (with extensions available); the mounting systems have a 10 year warranty; and the installations have warranties as follows ~ Nickel Energy 7 years; Eco Energy and Solar Solutions 6 years.

Most of the inverters selected are ‘battery ready’. See the below FAQ about battery storage for details about the inverters.

What are the options for adding battery storage to my system?

Battery storage is offered as an upgrade option in addition to the bulk-buy, however the batteries themselves are not eligible for the bulk-buy discount.

Your best battery choice will depend on your household energy consumption requirements, and the level of energy self-sufficiency and storage you want to achieve.

The inverter choice is also important. Most inverters used are “storage-ready” so you can add batteries at a later time as well.

Nickel Energy and EESS both offer a range of battery types and can advise what is the best fit for your individual situation and needs at the time of your site visit and quotation.

Off-grid solutions are also possible, however require different battery options.

Can I expand or upgrade my existing solar power system with the bulk-buy?

Yes!

Both the Northern Rivers and New England North West solar power bulk-buys are available and able to be used to upgrade an existing solar power system ~ including adding more capacity (i.e. panels) and/or adding battery storage.

Can my solar power system be mounted on the ground?

Yes.

Both Nickel Energy and EESS can provide and install pre-fabricated frames, as well as provide guidelines for do-it-yourself construction of the frame.

What are the arrangements for changing over to a net/smart meter?

Net Solar Metering for the Northern Rivers bulk-buy is as follows:

  • Single phase power ~ $450 (inc GST)
  • Three phase power ~ $690 (inc GST)

Net Solar Metering for the New England North West bulk-buy is as follows:

  • Single phase power ~ $450 (inc GST)
  • Three phase power ~ $675 (inc GST)

What are the options for how I deal with my small-scale technology (renewable energy) certificates?

For the solar power bulk-buy, EESS have arranged for your STC rebate to be offered as a point of sale discount so that there is no time delay for you to receive the rebate.

For the solar hot-water bulk-buy, Endless-Solar will assist with your rebate claim following completion of your installation.

What are the financial arrangements for the bulk-buy programs?

Our Solar Specialist Partners (see above FAQ and Partners for more details) have each negotiated significant bulk-buy discounts, well below recommended retail prices, for a wide range of high quality solar power technologies.

Starfish Initiatives receive a 3% fee for coordination of the programs. This fee is calculated based on the final installation cost for each fully installed solar power and hot water system.

It is important to note that Starfish Initiatives contributes a significant amount of the coordination work on an unpaid or pro-bono basis, as do our Project Partners.

In addition, Farming the Sun further contributes to the long-term sustainability of our regions by setting aside “1% for Sustainability”. This means that 1% of the project’s income will be paid forward, so to speak, to fund future sustainability initiatives.

For the New England North West, this fund is more specifically for initiatives which are aligned with the priorities identified in the New England Sustainability Strategy.

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