Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY) is a wholly volunteer-run community energy group aiming to power the whole town with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022.
Yackandandah Fire Brigade became involved in the project in 2017 when there was an analysis of its energy use, and renewable energy opportunities were considered.
The TRY team secured a grant to fund the installation of a new solar energy system at the station, The venture became jointly funded by the Victorian Government under the Renewable Communities Program, Totally Renewable Yackandandah, the Into Our Hands Foundation (which was set up after the 2009 fires) and local community and business partners.
The TRY group was formed after a community energy forum in Yackandandah, organised by the Indigo Shire Council. Project Manager Matthew Charles-Jones has been a part of the TRY project since it started.
“It’s very exciting to see CFA taking up opportunities to save money with renewable energy and embrace the critically important challenge of climate change,” Matthew said.
“The evidence is very clear. There’s a powerful and disruptive link between worsening fire behaviour, more extreme weather events and increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Shifting to renewable energy is a first vital and achievable step in the long journey to carbon emissions reduction.”
At Yackandandah Fire Station, changes started with the installation of an energy-efficient split system air-conditioner and LED lighting. In 2018 the project continued by replacing the external, inefficient electric hot water system with a reliable bottled gas instantaneous unit.
In June 2019 a battery was installed at the station to reduce the export of solar electricity to the grid – storing it provides a backup supply for essential equipment if there’s a power outage. This supply can also be used on site to carry out activities when it’s dark. This further reduces the overall demand on the energy grid.
Yackandandah Captain Yves Quaglio believes the brigade’s shift to a solar and battery system is a strong reflection of the changing community sentiment towards energy.
“The battery system provides the additional confidence of a resilient power supply during emergency events,” Yves said. “At the same time we expect the energy bill for Yackandandah brigade to be zero or even negative across the year.”
Following the replacement of the hot water system and installation of the solar energy system, electricity use between February and May 2019 has dropped by 48 per cent compared with the same months in 2018.
Figures are yet to come in for the change in costs since the battery was installed.
“Yackandandah is a great little town with a huge creative spirit. This innovation is another manifestation of that spirit and is a strong reflection of the care that drives CFA volunteers to dedicate time, money and effort to being CFA members,” Yves said.
“The project is testament to the things which become possible when we work together – government, corporates, philanthropy, business and a dedicated community.”
As at the start of 2019, 16 CFA fire stations had solar electricity generating systems and many more brigades around the state are planning installations. CFA headquarters in Burwood also has solar panels.