Innovative retail model puts new technologies to the test

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Enova Community Energy, Australia’s first community-owned renewable energy retailer, is providing sustainable, clean energy for more than 5000 NSW residents and businesses with $5.2 million in annual revenue.

Enova is also a social enterprise, returning 50 per cent of the profits after tax and reinvestment back into communities through innovative projects like solar gardens and microgrids, energy efficiency services, energy education and projects such as installing solar on social housing to make renewable energy more accessible for all. Enova is currently crowdfunding to support its expansion across NSW and into QLD, VIC and SA.

Enova Chair, Alison Crook AO, said, “Enova’s approach of developing a partnership between the customer, retailer and network, with additional storage managed by networks; smart technology managing network peaks; and household or street batteries subsidised by retailers in return for some control, means communities can be largely independent and the customer shares in the savings of being part of a lower cost network.”

Enova is working with a range of innovators including Enosi, an open-source community energy platform providing consumers with choice, transparency and efficiency.

Enosi CEO, Steve Hoy, said Enosi’s mission is to enable affordable clean electricity services for all.

“For the new energy model of the future to emerge requires higher levels of customer trust, as well as new technologies that enable distributed, decentralised renewable generation at the community level. As innovators enabling this transition we support Enova’s growth across Australian communities.”

Industrial Estate Mini-Grid

Enova is working with Essential Energy to pilot a mini-grid in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate.

Ms Crook said modelling has been carried out by UNSW PhD students under supervision of a senior researcher living locally.

“LO3, the innovators behind the Brooklyn microgrid, are engaged to have their software used, and Watt Watchers are providing data loggers. Essential Energy has approval to install a grid side battery. We have obtained funds for marketing to acquire participants from NSW Dept of Planning, Clean Energy Programs, and the project is now underway. It will demonstrate the value of local energy sharing for the whole estate (some 250+ businesses).”

Partnerships to facilitate energy sharing/trading and embedded residential microgrids

The future of sustainable energy provision lies in building the capacity for “prosumers” who both produce and consume energy to play a key role in distributed systems.

Software which enables energy trading and demand management is necessary to deliver this future. For small retailers it is vital to be able to provide these capabilities. Enova is evaluating a number of Australian software solutions, and one US option which are in different stages of development. A range of partnership agreements are in place. Enova aims to prototype solutions in different pilot projects (industrial mini-grid, embedded residential network, virtual power plant).

Ms Crook said, “Enova aims to partner with one or more software providers who can support our ability to empower our customers to manage their energy use effectively, while maximising the benefits of being energy producers.”

Solar Gardens

Because distribution costs remain a hurdle for most solar gardens and local energy trading is not yet permitted,  Enova has developed a model to enable people who cannot install solar PV on their own roof tops for any reason (renting, unsuitable roof etc), to “subscribe” to panels in a solar garden which is then installed on a business rooftop. Enova’s first solar garden is currently being planned for installation. A tax ruling has been obtained.

Ms Crook said in this model the business and the “solar gardeners” become customers of Enova Energy.

“This enables the business under the roof to receive a 30 per cent discount on all solar used, while the subscribers receive a credit on their bills for the energy purchased and the energy exported. Those who rent can take their subscription with them when moving. And subscriptions can be gifted to family members or to low income families by community organisations. Each garden can have up to 20 ‘subscribers’ and has a 20-year life. We intend to roll out this model across suitable rooftops as Enova scales.”

Virtual Power Plants (VPPs)

Enova intends to also eventually facilitate VPPs which involve the installation of solar PV and batteries on a targeted number of households. The householder outlays no money, is not involved in maintenance and receives all energy at a fixed price for the next 15 years. Supply charges will be increased by CPI after the first five years.

Ms Crook said Enova will have the ability to use the stored energy to offset demand at peak times so that Enova has virtual generating capacity.

Modelling shows investors in the VPP will receive a return of 5 per cent plus. If social housing providers or government wishes to become involved they could lower prices to householders still further in return for accepting a lower ROI.”

Enova is currently crowdfunding to underpin its expansion across NSW and into QLD, VIC, and SA. Enova has just achieved the minimum investment level of $600,000 and working towards the next goal of $1 million via minimum investment of $100 for 100 shares.

“Enova is proudly disrupting Australia’s energy industry,” Ms Crook said.

“Not because we want to take a radical political stance, but quite simply, because we passionately believe that renewable energy should be more accessible and affordable for all Australians and more and more Australians share that view. Australians are voting with their energy choices – they want renewable and they want to support their local community where possible.”

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