We are the first Australasian student union using 100% on-site renewable electricity!

Project Overview

Repower the Tasmania University Union is an outstanding example of students’ engagement and students and professional staff collaboration for sustainability. The project delivered the first 100% student-funded on-site renewably powered Australasian student union, highlighted to students that renewable energy is a viable climate change response and leveraged opportunities to support student leaders. The project delivers an emissions reduction of ~19 t CO2–e per year via a 71kW photovoltaic system installed in three stages and energy audits delivering reduced energy consumption. Avoided TUU energy costs are re-invested in internships through the GGAA winning Sustainability Integration Program for Students.

The Initiative

Beginning in 2012, the Repower project aimed to make the Tasmanian University Union the first Australasian student union using 100% on-site renewable electricity. The project aimed to reduce carbon emissions associated with electricity use to zero and empower students through a combination of educational and leadership opportunities. The project avoids the emission of ~19 t CO2–e per annum via a 71kW photovoltaic solar array and implementation of energy demand reduction initiatives identified in energy audits. The array was completed in three stages:20kW (Sandy Bay, 2012), 30 kW (Newnham, 2014), and 21kW (Inveresk, 2019). The operational array includes in-built monitoring systems.

As part of the project, the TUU organised multiple student engagement events over the years, with the final ‘100%’ launch in November 2018. It is estimated that, over the lifetime of the project deployment, about 3,000 students have been engaged through these various events on the issues of carbon emissions reduction and renewable energy as a contributing solution to the problems posed by the climate crisis.
UTAS is a critical partner through provision of building rooftops and managing the siting, installation and ongoing system maintenance. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) also supported this project after their successful fundraising for a photovoltaic system for the on-campus student/community food cooperative, making that project 100% renewably powered in 2011. Learnings from that project allowed the AYCC volunteers to provide a framework for student engagement and further avenues for engagement at student events for this project.

Funding Details

The total budget was over $150,000 over the six-year three stage project. UTAS contributed in-kind support through access to building rooftops and management of system installations. These in-kind costs have not been calculated. For ease of system management into the future, the TUU and UTAS came to an agreement where UTAS became the owner of the systems once installed and the TUU pays no energy costs for a period of 25 years – the lifetime of the project. Full funding from the project was obtained by the TUU through applications (2012/13, 2013/14 and 2016/18) to the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) Fund. In the first two funding rounds, the TUU and UTAS facilitated a vote to determine spending priorities for that year’s SSAF funds with the Repower projects highly favoured. The final round of funding also came from TUU funds but allocation was determined through a committee process (meeting minutes examples 11 March 2015 and 16 October 2012) rather than a student vote.

Financial Benefits

The TUU obtains the financial benefit from the project in the form of an energy credit applied to their account for electricity generated by the array. The 71kW array delivers >98,500 kWh/yr with an average avoided cost of $16,794 (excl GST) per annum and expected savings of over $420,000 for the life time of the project (>25 years; recognising that there will be diminishing returns after that due to panel efficiency reductions). These calculations are based on the tariff remaining the same, noting that an increase in tariffs would increase the financial benefit. These avoided costs have underwritten the TUU financial contribution to the GGAA winning UTAS Sustainability Integration Program for Students (SIPS) and other direct student-related activities.

More than 20 students have been directly involved in delivering the six-year project by conducting energy audits, organising funding, helping prepare specifications for the systems, and communication.  Most of these students went on to lead other sustainability activities in the University and as alumni. The Repower project provides a clear example of how renewable energy is a viable form of power generation at a local and observable level, with an estimated 3,000 students attending events and engaged via social and online media. The ambitious target of being a 100% renewable energy producer/consumer has spurred many students to become advocates for renewable energy in the community at large. The financial savings from the project are used to support the SIPS Program, hence engaging more students in sustainability projects, with social and environmental benefits.

Feelings of disempowerment can be common in organisations that campaign or advocate on climate change issues. This project provided a lens of empowerment by providing succeeding contributors with an example of shared success; addressing the challenges presented by transitioning to renewable energy.

The project also engaged students with a down to earth grassroots organising model at its core. It used tools such as events, social and online media to promote to students the benefits of renewable energy as part of a solution to climate change. These activities were leveraged to create leadership opportunities within the TUU, the sustainability-focused internship program as well as the AYCC.

Positive Outcomes

As a result of the project’s engagement focus, several student organisers began an annual TUU sustainability survey to catalogue initiatives that students believe to be worth-while at UTAS. Consequently, the TUU has improved its procurement activities – particularly moving towards more sustainable foods and compostable utensils and plates being used in preference to plastics. Waste and waste processing were significant concerns identified during the student surveys and as a result the TUU now recycles much more of its aluminum and glass waste.

Sustainable Procurement Practices

The Repower project was required to follow UTAS’s Sustainable Built Environment Designs guidelines and sustainable procurement guidelines, including competitive tendering with sustainability scoring critical alongside value for money and quality.

Other Benefits of this project

The UTAS Sustainability team has helped champion the students in this project for a number of years as there was little to no productive on-site renewable power installations at the University. Thus, helping the students to achieve their aims has allowed University staff to gain an understanding of the issues and benefits from installing photovoltaic systems, resulting in over 50kW installed in the past few years in other projects due to the demonstrated power generation.

Involvement of students and staff at the University of Tasmania

The Repower Project has had seven key student contributors (TUU environment officers and SIPS Interns) and there have been > 40 people providing ancillary support or in direct management roles, including 23 students. The project aimed to foster and facilitate growth of students by empowering them to take ownership of the project. This was done by providing successive organisers with leadership opportunities and avenues to expand and contribute to the project by organising events, writing the essential funding applications and acting as the student community’s representative in negotiations with UTAS. Most of these students went on to lead other sustainability activities in the University and as alumni.

Students also conduct a bi-annual energy audit of the TUU northern and southern campuses to determine how it can reduce its energy use. The auditing process provides an engagement and learning opportunity for students. In addition, an estimated 3,000 students were involved by attending events and engaged via social and online media, and the project aims to engage 1,000 students per year in the future at the broadest level on issues of climate change, emissions reduction and renewable energy.  UTAS staff from Infrastructure Services and Development were critical to project success, assuring that in dealing with the vast bureaucracy of UTAS the students have always had prudent and well-seasoned advice to guide their endeavours.

UTAS is a critical partner through provision of building rooftops and managing the siting, installation and ongoing system maintenance. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) also supported this project after their successful fundraising for a photovoltaic system for the on-campus student/community food cooperative, making that project 100% renewably powered in 2011. Learnings from that project allowed the AYCC volunteers to provide a framework for student engagement and further avenues for engagement at student events for this project.

Wider societal impact of Repower TUU

Adding local power generation contributes directly to the Tasmanian Government goal to be 100% renewably powered by 2022. This also demonstrates to the wider community that it is possible to contribute in this way. Reduced grid energy use also contributes directly to greenhouse gas emission reductions in line with national and international commitments.

Graduate Employment opportunities

The project has had various key student contributors (TUU environment officers and SIPS Interns) who have learnt and grown immensely from their involvement. Four of these students now work in sustainability and social justice sectors.
Students have gained skills and experiences depending on level of involvement and project component. Student involvement in this project has been predominantly through project scoping, conducting energy audits, writing reports and championing funding and support as well as raising the profile of the project and renewable energy more generally. Student participation has been through elected roles, curricular and internship activities, all counting as credit towards the Vice Chancellor’s Leadership Program that recognises authentic efforts outside of purely curricular achievement and is recorded on transcripts.

Find out more about the University’s Sustainability practices here