Seeking Victoria’s first “solar sponge” community battery network
YEF has signed a new agreement to unleash the potential of community-scale batteries.
The Yarra Energy Foundation has signed a new agreement to unlock the potential of community-scale battery storage in the Melbourne CBD and inner-city suburbs with Victorian electricity distributor, CitiPower.
While those celebrating Chinese New Year will welcome the year of the Ox, 2021 may be the year of the Battery for solar enthusiasts like us. The affordability of batteries has improved markedly in recent years and in the suburbia of the Yarra, the first seeds of community-owned battery networks are beginning to take root.
YEF has signed an agreement with Victorian electricity distributor, CitiPower. CitiPower distributes electricity to over 330,000 customers across Melbourne, powering our lives and critical appliances—including coffee machines and phone chargers. More than just electrons, our electricity supply helps us go about our lives as normal.
Or at least that’s what we hope. One of the great successes of solar PV has also come with a great problem for the electricity network. With surging solar uptake, the network will need to evolve with new types of infrastructure to cope with growth of prosumers—those who produce and consume power.
CitiPower’s General Manager, Electricity Networks, Mark Clarke said the penetration of rooftop solar in the CitiPower network was currently low at around 5% of the 332,000 customers but was expected to reach 24% by 2026.
“With this renewable energy source growing it is a good time to be investigating the potential for connecting batteries to support the whole community,” Mr Clarke said.
Some commentators have also suggested that with more of us adopting ‘work from home’, higher than normal electricity use could make solar even more attractive, exacerbating the demand on the network.
“This is why the industry, investors and government are showing heightened interest in community batteries,” said YEF Community Battery Project Manager, Chris Wallin.
“I have had meetings with a lot of people and organisations who are very interested in this model of community batteries. I think the potential is exponential, and important if Councils, like the City of Yarra, are striving to realise their net-zero emissions targets by 2030.”
But what exactly is a community battery?
One way to think of it is as a mid-sized battery shared between households in a neighbourhood. Smaller than a community battery, you have individual household batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall, and on the bigger end, grid-scale batteries, that service more expansive areas of the electricity network.
So how will community batteries solve these network problems and benefit the community in the long-term?
YEF CEO, Dean Kline explained that “the battery network would work as a solar sponge, absorbing excess power from solar during the day and releasing it during peak times and at night. This would provide customer, community and network benefits.”
Unless solar energy can be used or captured, it floats as excess, and the local network can only accept so much power during peak production times. This barrier means many people applying to install solar panels on their roofs may not be able to export excess energy. This is termed ‘export limited’.
On the flipside, high demand for power typically occurs in the late afternoon and evening, while many of us are cooking or using devices at home. Instead of pulling power from far across the grid, it would be much more efficient (and potentially a lot cheaper) to tap into the solar energy stored during the day in your community battery, which might be down the road from where you live.
Once a model for the community battery has been demonstrated, a network of solar sponges across Melbourne could deliver better energy to residents and businesses—including those who do not have solar on their roofs. Renters and low-income households also stand to benefit from lower prices associated with such a model. For distributors like CitiPower, supporting community-crowdsourced investment and engagement with a community battery rollout will allow them to provide more value to customers.
“By sharing the batteries, customers can make the most of their investment in solar. It benefits all CitiPower customers, even if they don’t have rooftop solar, as batteries help reduce the cost of building network capacity to accommodate more power and manage localised peak demand, particularly in summer.”
The first battery is expected to be trialed later in 2021. Financial modelling has started, and the project has already sparked interest from investors. What makes this new proposed model of community batteries different is that residents may be able to invest in their local battery and become part-owners. This is an exciting prospect for energy democracy, as batteries may give communities a say and a stake in how they control and source energy.
In forthcoming phases of the project, YEF and CitiPower want to engage with the local community, to listen to their concerns and ideas about community batteries, and to provide the opportunity for residents and businesses to participate in the unfurling of the future energy infrastructure of their local neighbourhoods.
Chris Wallin, Community Battery Project Manager
Timothy Shue, Communications & Marketing Manager
P: 03 9429 6070