Skip navigation

Future of Marlinja looks bright thanks to solar power

Marlinja Microgrid an historic achievement as the first First Nations community-owned and grid connected renewable energy project in Australia.

Australia’s first First Nations-owned and grid-connected solar microgrid in the remote Northern Territory community of Marlinja is being launched on 6 June 2024.

Located in the Barkly region, Marlinja sits halfway between Alice Springs and Darwin, around 25 kms north of Elliot. 

Chantelle Johns, Marlinja resident and community organiser with non profit project developer Original Power says this is an historic achievement for a small outback community.

“Like many remote communities, Marlinja residents experience extreme energy insecurity fuelled by the high price of electricity, and poorly designed houses not suited to our long hot summers and freezing winters. 

“We initially wanted rooftop solar on our homes but the Northern Territory government’s Department of Housing wasn’t prepared to work with us, so we chose to develop a solar microgrid project.

“We’ve overcome so many barriers getting this project up and running but now that we’ve proved it can be done, other remote communities should be able to do it too - in much less time."

The Marlinja Microgrid results from a five-year collaboration between Marlinja community and Original Power, resulting in a grid-connected 100kw solar array provided by technology partner 5B and a 136Kwh battery.

Ethan Godrey, Marlinja Traditional Owner and one of the key drivers of the project says life in remote communities is hard when power is so expensive. 

“Many times our whole community has lost power and water for weeks due to failures in the power network, and our families are being disconnected for days at a time when our pre-paid meter credit runs out. 

“We knew there was a better way to live and that's why we started this solar power journey so we could use cheaper, cleaner power from the sun.

"Five years later the future of Marlinja is looking bright thanks to solar power.”

Original Power’s clean energy communities project coordinator Lauren Mellor says Marlinja residents invited them to partner on developing the renewable energy solution in 2019, managing the development of the project from design through to fundraising, installation and commissioning, with plans for ongoing support, training and employment for community in the operational and maintenance phases.

“Low cost, clean energy should be available to all, yet First Nations communities are being left behind in Australia’s energy transition. 

“The Marlinja microgrid project demonstrates the technical, regulatory and policy solutions to support the wider uptake of renewable energy in First Nations’ communities and drive improvements in household energy security, affordability and climate resilience.

“With the successful implementation of this project, we can now show the Northern Territory Government and other First Nations communities around Australia an inspiring blueprint for community-owned energy that supports a faster and fairer transition to renewable energy.”

A key feature of the Marlinja project is an innovative benefit sharing trial developed by Original Power with support from NT government retailer Jacana Energy to share solar cost savings direct to the meters of Marlinja households. For the first time, First Nations pre-paid meter customers will benefit directly and equitably from their own solar investment, similar to the behind-the-meter benefits received by households with rooftop solar. 

A Jacana Energy spokesperson said they are delighted to partner with Original Power to deliver clean, affordable energy to the Marlinja community. 

“This innovative project will showcase how the benefits of renewable generation can be shared amongst the community, whilst ensuring supply continuity.”

The Marlinja Microgrid is a proud beneficiary of partial funding through the Barkly Regional Deal with the remainder of the project’s $750,000 price tag raised through philanthropic networks and through the generous contributions of technology partners including 5B.

Nicole Kuepper-Russell, 5B chief strategy officer says it’s an incredible milestone for the Marlinja community. 

“To see a remote community achieve greater self determination through access to clean, affordable, reliable energy by leveraging the unique attributes of our 5B Maverick solar technology, being prefabricated and fast-to-deploy, is very special. The 5B Maverick is perfect for these remote projects and environments. Community-owned power projects like Marlinja are an important part of the Territory’s energy transition.”

The microgrid launch on 6 June includes a press conference and solar site tour, cultural ceremony and community dinner, with bands and performances from 4 - 9pm in Marlinja.

The community will host project development, industry and philanthropic partners, representatives from Jacana Energy, Power and Water Corporation, and Northern Territory and Federal government officials at the community celebration.

Karrina Nolan, executive director of Original Power and co-Chair of the First Nations Clean Energy Network says further barriers must be lifted by Federal and State/Territory governments to enable a faster fairer transition and ensure nobody is left behind.

“We are looking forward to seeing the lessons from the Marlinja microgrid development adopted by government and industry in a wider roll-out of community determined renewables to support a faster, fairer energy transition in which First Nations communities play a vital partnership role in project delivery.”