Our Future || Cooperative way to produce a solar solution

Humans have used solar energy to heat water for thousands of years, and modern solar hot water technology has been around much longer than solar PV panels. Similarly, humans have tended to cooperate. You could say cooperation, like the sun, has been with us since day one.

I'm part of a cooperative that manufactures solar hot water products in a traditional coal region.

Our project, Earthworker, comes from years of hard work, volunteer input, community investment and support from unions, environmental and local groups.

Government support from the start would have been great, but we don't have time to wait. We must lead in creating the solutions for more sustainable, fair futures.

So what is a cooperative, and what is solar hot water?

A cooperative is people working together democratically for a common purpose. The Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative is a worker-run factory in Morwell, where workers together decide how to operate the enterprise and make the best solar hot water products we can.

We aren't just working to make our community more sustainable, helping bring about a "just transition" for the Latrobe Valley, we are practising economic democracy.

Heating water is energy-intensive. For households with inefficient hot water services, it can account for over one third of total energy usage - meaning high power bills and pollution. Solar hot water utilises the sun to help heat water, for lower bills and lower emissions.

Classic solar hot water uses rooftop arrays to capture sunlight and directly heat water. Nowadays heat pumps are increasingly popular. When combined with solar PV, they can be virtual batteries, allowing households to direct daytime solar energy into water heating, to be used when the sun isn't shining.

We want to provide Australians with the chance to support a local manufacturing industry, while reducing their power bills and pollution - especially the most vulnerable. This is why we dedicate a portion of our surplus to installing solar hot water into low-income houses, and why we're calling on governments to follow our lead.

Today there are five people working in our factory. I look forward to the day when there are 50, many more factories like ours, and when cleaner energy is everywhere. For this we need community and government support, to make renewable energy accessible to everyone.

Dan Musil is the Secretary of Earthworker Cooperative.