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Keen investors putting ClearSky Solar Investments on growth trajectory

Neale Siebert and Christina Kirsch from ClearSky Solar Investment at the 2018 Green Globe Awards in Sydney
Neale Siebert and Christina Kirsch from ClearSky Solar Investment at the 2018 Green Globe Awards in Sydney

According to ClearSky Solar Investments, which took out the biggest honours at the Green Globe Awards in Sydney last week, there is no shortage of retail investors for renewable energy to supply commercial buildings.

With a return of 7 per cent that’s understandable for people who want to contribute to clean energy and make a return well above bank rates at the same time.

Speaking with The Fifth Estate after the ceremony at the NSW Art Gallery on Thursday, ClearSky Solar Investments director Warren Yates said that the not-for-profit renewable investment organisation is struggling to keep up with an oversupply of eager “mum and dad investors”.

“There’s a huge opportunity here. For every project we announce we’re oversubscribed in a short time. There’s a lot of money out there,” he said.

The organisation won the Premier’s Award for Environmental Excellence, the Climate Change Leadership Award and the Community Leadership Award.

Born out of a climate action group in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the four-person outfit has ambitions to grow to keep pace with strong investor demand.

But Mr Yates realises that the future of renewables investment is uncertain, particularly in a country that lacks a national climate policy.

Community and individual investors are currently involved in 32 different community renewables projects, amounting to $5.3 million in investment funding.

How ClearSky Solar works

The mission-led social enterprise was set up to make it easy to invest in community renewable energy projects, which are vetted by the organisation to make sure they will create significant, reliable returns.

The investment model is simple. Investors provide capital for the installation of the project and receive a fee for each kilowatt the system generates for the next seven years, after which the installation is paid off and the business owner receives free energy.

Each renewable energy project is organised as a trust with a maximum of 20 investors. Investors receive paybacks proportionate to the amount they chose to invest, generally 7 per cent, the company says.

The social enterprise partners with for-profit solar implementation company Smart Commercial Solar, which installs the systems using the capital raised.

The key to ClearSky Solar’s success is the streamlined administration system that makes the process simple for all parties, Mr Yates said. Documents are freely available for other community solar groups to use so they can do the same thing.

He said that specialising in commercial projects was also a wise decision.

“Do something specific and do it well. We only do commercial buildings and buildings that operate 365 days a year so that nothing goes back to the grid.”

How it started

The four renewable energy activists set up the organisation when they realised that they wanted to do more to drive renewables take up.

“We wanted to make people realise this was a good financial investment, and then vote for the governments that promote them.”

At the Green Globe Awards last week, the company won not just the Premier’s Award for Environmental Excellence, the Climate Change Leadership Award and the Community Leadership Award, it was also a finalist in the Innovation category.

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