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Community Batteries

Community Battery FAQs

About our community battery trial

What are the benefits of the trial?

A community battery trial aims to enable more people to access locally generated clean energy. A community battery would also enable more people to install solar, and provide benefits to all energy-users in the neighbourhood, not just solar owners, but also renters and those who do not have solar on their roofs. Unlike a household battery, the community battery leverages economies of scale and is likely to be a far more cost-effective way to store and dispatch renewable energy. A community battery trial will also demonstrate how mid-scale batteries can improve energy affordability and energy equity.

How are the trial sites selected? / Where will the battery be located?

For this trial site, YEF and CitiPower have a preferred site in North Fitzroy on CitiPower-owned land. However, the battery location will be decided through consultation with the community. The main factors influencing where a battery can be located include: community support, areas of network constraints (congestion in the network), which a battery is designed to alleviate, levels of existing rooftop solar in the area, land access and ownership, and planning permission from Yarra Council.

What’s the distance limitation on how far you can be from the battery?

There is no set distance limitation on how far you can be from the battery. Rather, your ability to participate in the battery will depend on whether your premises is connected to the same subnetwork as the battery.

How many batteries will be installed?

This is yet to be decided, but the intention is to provide enough battery storage capacity to service a neighbourhood of up to 200 households. Depending on which type of battery is selected, this may require only a single battery unit. However, this could also be arranged by coupling two smaller battery units.

What is the size of the battery?

The physical size of the battery will depend on what battery hardware is selected, which is yet to be decided. However, generally speaking, a community battery may be about the size of a small-to-large 4WD vehicle, depending on the capacity of the battery. The smaller the physical size of the unit, the less energy it is able to store. A community battery may range in storage capacity from 100 kilowatt-hours (suitable for tens of households) to five megawatt-hours (MWh) (a few hundred homes). The trial site location and available land will also determine the size of the battery, or whether multiple smaller batteries are used instead of a single larger unit.

What is the life expectancy of the battery?

Depending on which battery hardware is selected, a well-chosen community battery system, factoring in maintenance and upgrades, has low enough degradation to last approximately 10 years.

Is this the first community battery trial in Victoria?

No, this is not the first trial of a neighbourhood-scale battery in Victoria. There are other projects, including a pole-mounted batteries projected operated by United Energy, and a Yackandandah community battery. However, these projects differ from the Yarra Community Battery Trial in a number of ways, including how the batteries are intended to be owned and operated. This trial is exploring a number of firsts, including a hybrid community-owned structure, as well as designing a community battery that can benefit all energy users in an area, not just solar customers.

Where has this been done before?

A community battery trial like this has not been done elsewhere in Australia, as far as we know. There are however, a number of other community battery trials around Australia that are investigating different outcomes, and exploring different models to the one we are pursuing in Yarra. The first community battery trials in Australia were run from 2016-2021 in Western Australia and the findings from that project are available here: https://arena.gov.au/knowledge-bank/alkimos-beach-energy-storage-trial-final-report/

What makes this trial different?

There are two main aspects of the Yarra Community Battery Trial which are very different to all other community battery trials and installations in Australia so far. The first aspect is our battery will be able to provide more renewable energy to everyone connected to the subnetwork (the part of the grid which the battery is connected to). Other well-known examples are only available to solar customers, whereas ours would be open to everyone, including tenants and those without rooftop solar through an electricity retailer. The second aspect is the funding and ownership model. We are pursuing an outcome which would enable the battery to be owned by a third-party, which is neither a network operator or an electricity company. The model is yet to be determined, but is likely to enable local residents in and around the battery to invest in the battery and potentially become shared owners of the battery itself.

Who will operate the battery?

At this stage the battery operator is yet to be determined, and will be a significant part of what is learned and developed in this trial. We will update this response when we have further details.

Will the battery remain in operation at the end of the trial?

This is the hope, however it will depend on the outcomes and lessons learned from the trial. Provided there is a sustainable business case and community support, YEF and project partners would expect the battery to remain operational after the end of the trial, provided this is beneficial to the local community and the community supports its continuation.

Who has been engaged in this project?

YEF and partners, including Yarra Council, intend to consult widely with the Yarra community more broadly before conducting targeted engagement and consultation activities with the trial site residents and businesses.

The funding for this trial provided by the Victorian Government through the Neighbourhood Battery Initiative was announced in August 2021.

YEF has engaged CitiPower, the electricity network provider, the Victorian Government’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and national experts from the Battery Storage & Grid Integration Program researchers at The Australian National University.

YEF is also engaging community climate groups on community batteries through the Metropolitan Community Power Hub, which is a separate project run by YEF, funded by Sustainability Victoria.

Are there any implications for feed in tariffs?

Our model is totally independent of the feed-in-tariff system.

Where can I get more information or make a contribution?

Visit www.yef.org.au/community-batteries to learn more. You can contact YEF via information@yef.org.au at any time if you have questions about the trial. Make sure to subscribe to YEF’s newsletter to receive regular updates about the trial project.

Battery FAQs

What is a community battery?

A community battery, also sometimes referred to as a “neighbourhood battery”, is a type of energy storage that can increase peoples’ accessibility and availability of renewable energy.

These batteries are bigger than a home battery. While a typical household battery (often used to store rooftop solar energy) might have a power capacity up to about 10 kilowatt-hours (kWh). This might be enough to power your average household for a day. On the other hand, community batteries range from 100 kWh to five megawatt-hours (MWh) in capacity, enough to power a small neighbourhood.

Community batteries can be connected ‘in front of the meter’ to the electricity network, that is, they are located away from your home or property and connected to the local network as a standalone unit. A community battery would typically be located at the street level close to where electricity is being consumed and generated. It would ideally be placed somewhere towards the middle of the “feeder”, and close enough to specific electricity infrastructure such as a “transformer”, so that they can operate effectively and deliver services efficiently to the community.

feeder is a cable or line that carries power from a transformer along a street, typically overhead supported by power poles, but it can also be buried underground. Supply to each property is provided by a smaller cable from the feeder to a box on the side of a house or building.

transformer is a common electrical device that is either ground-mounted or pole-mounted. The pole-mounted transformers have lower capacity but are very common in suburban neighbourhoods. The purpose of a transformer is to ‘transform’ the voltage of electricity from 11,000 volts or 22,000 volts to the voltage that we use at home, 230 volts, or 415 volts if you have three phases coming into your property.

Community batteries can be owned by electricity distribution businesses or third parties such as community energy groups, electricity retailers, aggregators, and private investors.

What does a community battery do?

Community batteries can provide a wide range of social, economic and technical benefits, including:

  • Allowing more solar installations: They can enable the network to support more rooftop solar by storing electricity generated by solar systems during the day and discharging it during the evenings when local demand is highest. This can enable people to generate and consume more renewable energy locally and support emissions reductions targets.
  • Network support: They can be used to avoid costly network upgrades by providing services that help to manage electricity congestion in the network. Lower costs of maintaining and upgrading the network may put downward pressure on electricity costs.
  • Market services: They can participate in spot price arbitrage in the wholesale electricity market (buying electricity when prices are low and selling when they are high), which can help put downward pressure on electricity prices for everyone. They can also provide services that help maintain the security and reliability of the electricity system and reducing the risk of blackouts.
  • Virtual shared storage service for customers: Community batteries offer a more affordable option for energy storage than household batteries, which are currently relatively expensive for most customers. YEF is investigating how a platform could be used to allow locals to store excess solar generation in the battery during the day and draw down on it in the evening. According to the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP), participation in shared storage schemes may be cheaper, more efficient and more flexible than purchasing a household battery, avoiding installation and maintenance costs, as well as relocation constraints.

How much energy does a battery store?

Community or neighbourhood scale batteries range in power capacity from approximately 100 kWh to five megawatt-hours (MWh) and may service 20-40 homes up to a small town, depending on the size. 

How does the itself battery work?

Excess solar energy produced locally would be absorbed by the battery, and then discharged during times of peak demand. When locally generated solar is unavailable (for example on cloudy days), the battery might charged with renewable energy from a remote wind farm or solar farm, providing renewable energy content for local energy users. The battery itself would use lithium-ion technology, the industry standard form of electricity storage for batteries. This is the same technology used for smartphone batteries.

Who benefits from community batteries?

Community batteries can offer a more cost-effective alternative to installing your own battery storage. Some of the benefits include:

Reduced costs:

  • No upfront battery installation costs
  • No maintenance costs – including risk of battery failure, and
  • No need to pay for a new battery at end of life.

Greater choices:

  • Communities can be provided with a storage solution for their individual needs
  • Communities can ‘flex’ their battery size to suit their changing circumstances
  • No space for a battery? No problem! A community battery doesn’t take up space in your garage or on your front porch.

Community batteries don’t just save on electricity costs for local solar customers. They help to keep electricity prices down for the wider community.

Community batteries can:

  • Help make our energy supply less carbon intensive by supporting and encouraging greater uptake of solar by households and businesses
  • Increase the number of batteries in the energy system, which can reduce peak demand and place downward pressure on energy prices
  • Make access to energy storage more equitable, giving everyone the ability to save on their electricity costs
  • Offer a better and cheaper alternative to traditional network investment, and
  • Offer a cheaper way to provide storage to the community as larger, shared batteries are cheaper to buy and maintain than lots of smaller, individual batteries in homes.

What are the noise levels?

We can expect that a community battery unit would make noise when it is both charging and discharging electricity. The charging and discharging would occur during the day when the sun shines and in the evening especially during peak demand, and not at night. One battery manufacturer quoted a noise level of about 55 decibels at 1 metre from the battery unit, which is similar to the sound of a dishwasher, but quieter than a vacuum cleaner (about 70 dbs). Noise can be managed by installing acoustic panels within or outside of the battery unit. Steps to protect the local quiet and ambience of the neighbourhood in which the battery is located will be built into the project management and planning.

Are community batteries safe?

Yes, the batteries that YEF will install will be safe. Our selection of suppliers and our testing of their technology follow a rigorous process to ensure that they operate safely and do not pose a fire threat and operate within Australian standards for Electro-Magnetic Fields (EMF).

How can community batteries help facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles?

Community batteries provide storage just as EV charging stations do. The step to adding chargers to an installation is not difficult, but it is not in-scope of this trial though.

Will the batteries be derived from the usual Lithium, if so, is there a sustainable source available?

The battery selection is not final and once it is we may be able to answer the question.

Can community batteries be used for embedded networks?

They can, however, it is up to the embedded network operator to initiate the process for embedded network customers to benefit from. If the community battery was installed outside the embedded network, the embedded network operator could benefit and could pass on the benefit to all of their customers.

Participant FAQs

How can I participate in the Yarra community battery trial?

If you are located within the trial site catchment you may be eligible to participate in the community battery Trial directly through a designated electricity retailer (yet to be determined).

If your premises is connected to the trial site subnetwork you can expect to receive more information about how to participate in the trial within the next 12 months.

YEF will be releasing more information as it becomes available about how trial site residents will be able to ‘sign up’ to the battery.

Depending on the ownership and investment model, you may also be eligible to invest in the battery itself. If you live in the City of Yarra but outside of the trial site area, you may potentially become an investor as well, or you could express interest in having a community battery installed in your neighbourhood by contacting YEF (information@yef.org.au) in the future.

Is the trial open to anyone?

Only those in the trial site area will be able to participate directly in the trial itself. This includes all energy users connected to the subnetwork, not only those with rooftop solar. However, we encourage all community interest in the trial to be communicated directly to YEF (information@yef.org.au), because community feedback will shape the outcomes of this trial (and future batteries) including how benefits are shared across the community. Our vision is to install many more batteries in the coming years, so your interest and input in this trial will help us to design a model that can potentially be replicated in other areas of the network.

Do I have to be with a specific retailer to participate, and what are my obligations?

Yes you will need to be with a specific retailer to participate in the trial. We anticipate there being a range of retailers to select from, exactly which retailers will be used in this trial will be decided with the community. YEF has been approached by a number of retailers and a decision will be made as the project progresses. Participants will also be required to use a ‘time of use tariff’, which means that the price of electricity changes at different times of the day.

Will there be an upfront cost or annual subscription, or will it be free to participate?

Our business model anticipates a small discount for participants as an incentive to sign up to the battery through a participating retailer. This is still subject to change and is being investigated in the early stages of the trial.

Will a community battery save people money?

Yes, a community battery is designed to reduce costs of locally produced renewable energy. Our trial is pursuing a new ‘local use of system tariff’ which is designed to be cheaper than standard electricity plans, because the costs include only the local use of the electricity system (not the whole network). Greater supply of renewable energy captured and then discharged by the battery would put downward pressure on the price (with other conditions, including demand, remaining the same).

How many kWh per day would you be entitled to access?

This will depend on how many customers sign up to the battery. For example, if 200kWh of energy is discharged every day to 40 customers, each customer gets on average the benefit of 5kWh during peak consumption time. This allocation is our default model and can be changed in agreement with the local community.

Will you be rolling out other batteries across the network?

That is the hope, but how quickly and equitably we can do this will depend on a range of factors which we hope to gain more certainty about from this trial. A network of batteries will have economies of scale and drive the costs of energy storage down further. A number of cost-sharing opportunities exist for a network of batteries, such as battery control system software, battery management and operational costs.

What aggregate size of batteries do you need to participate on wholesale market?

There is no size limit for buying and selling electricity. It has to be of a substantial size for providing frequency support services though. In this case if the battery is too small, it would be aggregated with other batteries to participate.

Will there be any difference with current grid connection arrangements for solar owners?

There is not impact on the feed-in-tariff system. As far as the connection, if it was approved by Citipower with zero exports or limited exports, that restriction can be lifted once a community battery is installed in the neighbourhood on the same electricity supply cable. This however, is at Citipwoer’s discretion.

Will community batteries mean Citipower won’t need to charge people for solar exports?

The regulator, The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) will need to address the benefits of community batteries to overcome the problems that excessive solar export cause. In principle though, a community battery would offer that service which would negate the need to charge solar customers in the same neighbourhood, i.e. on the same electricity supply cable as the battery system.

Will solar exporters to the battery be paid for doing so? How will rates be decided/implemented?

The business model does not change anything to the existing feed-in-tariff that all residential Victorian solar exporters receive. In other words, battery will focus on the provision of renewable energy, while the feed-in-tariff for those that export solar is paid as usual – this is separate to the battery trial. For households signing up to the battery through a participating retailer we expect that the retailer will offer a small discount for sourcing energy locally rather than from the wider grid.