The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has revealed $4 million in funding for United Energy to trial the use of 40 pole-mounted batteries, to manage peak demand across low voltage distribution networks. 

The first of its kind in Australia, the $10.98 million project will see 40 custom-built batteries manufactured and mounted to electricity poles across United Energy’s distribution network.

The funding will support rooftop solar uptake through pole-mounted batteries and help peak demand issues in south-eastern Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula.

The batteries will operate as a virtual power plant (VPP), providing demand management services, and increasing hosting capacity for rooftop solar, with United Energy signing a deal with Simply Energy for the market trading rights of the VPP.

Each of the 30kW batteries will be capable of providing at least two hours of storage and will be installed at strategic locations across the network. 

The batteries will be manufactured locally by Thycon in Melbourne’s north and mirror the design of existing distribution transformers that are already mounted to poles across United Energy’s network in Melbourne’s bayside area.

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said the project was an exciting opportunity that builds on ARENA’s previous work to integrate renewables into the electricity system, including VPP trials with Tesla, AGL and Simply Energy.

“United Energy’s world-first pole-mounted technology could change the way renewables are integrated into the system,” Mr Miller said. 

“When connected near customers, distribution connected batteries have enormous potential to facilitate higher levels of rooftop solar, while keeping costs under control for all customers.” 

In addition to reducing stress on distribution transformers in times of peak demand, the batteries will also be able to regulate voltage and increase the hosting capacity of solar PV in the local grid, providing benefits to all customers.

When the batteries are not required by United Energy, Simply Energy will operate them to provide wholesale power and frequency control ancillary services (FCAS). 

This union is an example of how networks and retailers can share value streams to provide benefits to customers and the wider energy system.

United Energy General Manager Electricity Networks, Mark Clarke, said that in this way, the Electric Avenue pole-top batteries provide an opportunity for customers to share power in their community.

“A community battery is a way of storing energy that can then be used locally when it is needed,” Mr Clarke said.

“It is a great way of ensuring solar PV exports from homes in the community are consumed locally.

“From a network perspective, it also helps defer traditional investment so can save money for customers on future network tariffs.”

The project follows a successful pilot by United Energy that saw two battery units installed in early 2020 in the Melbourne suburbs of Black Rock and Highett, to demonstrate the feasibility of pole mounted technology.

Simply Energy CEO, Shannon Hyde, said the batteries presented enormous opportunities for customers in Melbourne’s south-east.

“The inclusion of community batteries to Simply Energy’s Virtual Power Plant program unlocks an array of new benefits, and by supporting the grid helps keep energy prices down,” Mr Hyde said.

“The program shows the versatility of battery technology in supporting networks, creating opportunities to trade energy and delivering for solar and non-solar energy customers alike.”

ARENA’s funding for United Energy follows ARENA having commissioned AECOM in 2019 to develop the Grid vs Garage report, which found batteries connected to the distribution network could provide additional value to customers and networks by reducing the need for infrastructure upgrades.

“As more and more renewable generation comes online, it’s crucial to address the challenges of a changing energy mix and build the grid of the future,” Mr Miller said. 

“We’re excited to see United Energy trial a novel approach to battery storage that provides benefits to current and future solar customers and reduces network costs, while also increasing the level of dispatchable generation in the power system.”

United Energy, a Victorian energy distributor, manages a low-voltage distribution network servicing 660,000 customers across Melbourne’s East, South East and the Mornington Peninsula.

ARENA has previously supported United Energy to trial innovative FCAS solutions and demand response at substations across the network.

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