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One of the greatest challenges we often think of when it comes to solar and battery storage uptake is the fact that right now, these expensive technologies can be out of reach for many Australians. Community batteries, which are being trialled extensively around the country, might just be the answer to this challenge we’ve all been looking for.

Community batteries are a shared neighbourhood battery solution where solar energy can be stored and retrieved.

They offer an alternative to individual households purchasing their own battery storage system, saving them thousands of dollars and improving the level of clean energy supply in the grid.

Community batteries generally range in size from 100kW-1MW, and offer a number of benefits over individual battery systems.

These include no upfront and installation costs, no maintenance costs, the potential to offer a range of different storage size options, and the flexibility to change storage sizes if photovoltaic (PV) system size increases, or consumption patterns change.

A community battery, like any valuable shared asset, also has the potential for wider community benefits such as:

» Increased overall levels of storage in the system, reducing peak demand and placing downward pressure on wholesale prices

» Improved ability to address targeted network voltage and capacity issues, some of which result from increased solar PV penetration,
preventing the need for traditional investment solutions

» Economies of scale, especially when coupled with the diversity benefits of storing energy for multiple customers, which could reduce costs by over 50 per cent compared to individual batteries

» Improvements to customer equity by potentially providing an equitable solution for customers who are tenants or who live in apartments who don’t have, or can’t access solar – enabling energy trading.

Community batteries may also offer additional benefits over and above what residential and grid-scale energy storage systems provide.

Depending on the operation of the storage, benefits include reduced energy costs, improved solar power self-consumption, reduced import and export peak load, and increased network hosting capacity for non-dispatchable energy generation such as rooftop solar.

Community interest in shared storage may in part reflect a broader enthusiasm from customers for a sharing economy.

In Australia, there is widespread interest in community-scale storage, with several trial projects underway. There are also a number of community batteries already being developed, designed, or in use in Australia.

Over the page is a small sample of some of the community battery projects currently underway around the country.

A powerful partnership

In Western Australia, Western Power has partnered with Synergy to install three community-scale batteries utilising Tesla technology:

» Meadow Springs, Mandurah: first trial launched in October 2018 with a 105kW (420kWh) battery
» Falcon, Mandurah: an extension of the Meadow Springs trial with a 116kW (464kWh) battery
» Ellenbrook: a PowerBank trial launched in February 2020 with a 116kW (464kWh) battery

The PowerBank community battery is an Australian-first trial to integrate bulk solar battery storage into the existing grid that also provides customers with a retail storage option.

Western Power owns and maintains the battery, meaning customers don’t have to outlay the costs of purchasing a behind-the-meter battery.

Customers will be allocated 6kWh or 8kWh of virtual storage costing $1.60 or $1.90 a day. Synergy CEO, Jason Waters, said the importance of Synergy and Western Power joining forces to develop the PowerBank was imperative, as it provides valuable learnings as to how battery storage technology can be beneficial to customers.

“There is so much to learn about how to integrate battery storage technology into the sector, as we move away from the traditional centralised generation and network model, to a future that increasingly incorporates distributed energy resources, such as battery storage deployed at individual customer and community-scale levels,” Mr Waters said.

“We know more of our customers want to know how they can benefit from battery storage technology in the future and want Synergy to partner with them directly to find solutions.

“There is a natural link to their requirements, as they are already effectively selling their excess solar PV electricity output to Synergy through the Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme and buying electricity from the grid when their solar panels are no longer generating.

“We know those customers are seeking an alternative to store and use that excess energy to help them manage their household energy consumption more efficiently.”

Western Power acting Chief Executive Officer, Dave Fyfe, said the investment in grid-connected community batteries, like the PowerBank trial, would continue as it delivered benefits beyond just battery storage.

“Community batteries don’t only provide immediate, cost-effective solar storage options, they also have a collective benefit of smoothing out power supply to all customers in the area and opening up the capacity for more solar to be installed in the future,” Mr Fyfe said.

Western Power has also identified other local government sites where community batteries could be installed in 2020.

Pole-mounted batteries in Melbourne

United Energy is installing two pole-mounted batteries for the local community in Melbourne to share. This is part of its efforts to develop a flexible network that can respond to customer choices.

By installing the batteries on the United Energy network, the utility will be able to sustain 99.99 per cent reliability for customers, support those with rooftop solar to get the most out of their investment, and enable customers to use these new technologies.

Like household batteries and solar installation, United Energy’s pole batteries will charge at lower demand periods when spare electricity is available.

Then, at peak demand times like early evening, it will discharge and assist powering the homes it’s connected to and reduce the likelihood of outages.

Using battery technology, particularly in association with rooftop solar, is becoming more common in Victorian homes. However, the cost is not yet affordable for the majority of people.

Pole-mounted batteries on the low voltage network will support up to 150 homes and businesses with stored energy.Two locations have been selected for the trial: Black Rock and Highett.

These locations were selected based on a range of criteria including residential density, visual amenity, noise concerns and electricity demand. Both are in areas where there are constraints on the network.

This means that on peak demand days there is a risk of outages because the network cannot physically move enough electricity to meet customer needs.

Installing batteries to provide an alternative source of electricity for these areas can therefore help sustain reliable supplies while deferring more costly network investment.

Peer-to-peer training in NSW

Enova Community Energy, in partnership with Enosi Australia and the University of Newcastle, and with the support of Ausgrid, are jointly working together in a shared community battery project to be deployed in regional NSW.

The project will involve a shared 2MWh battery for solar storage and peer-to-peer trading.

The project aims to test whether small and mid-size electricity retailers, like Enova, can reduce their risk in the electricity market and deliver further benefits to the community via strategic use of the battery.

The battery will be located in regional NSW, with Enova currently in the process of determining the optimum location with the network.

The aim is for the battery and the peer-to-peer trading platform to be live by the end of 2020. The battery will be about as big as a
shipping container, and it will look a bit like a shipping container too.

Kalgoorlie’s solar future

Kalgoorlie-Boulder will soon be home to the region’s first 464 kilowatt hour community battery, with construction kicking off in June 2020.

Located on Dart Street, Western Power’s utility-grade battery will be integrated into the network, with the aim to improve power quality and ease the daytime and peak-time load periods.

It will also enable homes and businesses in Kalgoorlie to continue integrating more rooftop solar and new technologies onto the grid.

The rollout of community batteries is a key action of Western Australia’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap, which was released in April 2020.

The future is bright

Early feedback from trials around Australia are reporting positive outcomes for community batteries. Users are pleased with the benefits, and the access to renewable energy and storage without the sizable price outlay from the outset.

Utilities are also impressed with the results they’re seeing, which extend beyond happy customers and across to benefits for the grid, particularly in areas constrained on days of excess demand.

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