Moreland Energy Foundation presents the the ‘Here Comes the Sun’ project, which looks to address the feasibility of integrated local electricity networks that incorporate battery storage and demand management in existing residential suburbs.
The transformation of the electricity network is certainly now upon us. Years of environmental advocacy, rapid technology advances and shifts in consumer demand are driving an unprecedented shake up of our century-old supply network. With this change come opportunities (and some risks) to harness the value of renewable energy across the grid as we drive towards zero emissions.
Traditionally, Australia’s electricity networks were largely built and controlled by state governments, and operated as central power supply systems managed with two policy imperatives in mind: security of supply and cost effectiveness. The much heralded disruption is turning this system upside down, bringing technical and financial challenges along with opportunities.
The big shift to date has been ‘behind the meter’, where there is a clear case for householders and businesses to invest in solar PV to avoid the cost of conventional energy supply. Yet establishing value ‘in front of the meter’ sharing your locally generated energy across the grid—has so far been fraught.
Australia has the highest per capita rate of rooftop solar uptake internationally, at more than one in seven households (Clean Energy Council (CEC) 2014) and this trend is expected to continue. While the average size of solar PV systems has steadily increased in recent years (Australian PV Institute 2016), declining Feed-InTariffs and rebates mean households currently tend to size their solar system to match their maximum daily energy demand rather than their rooftop capacity. There is hence a substantial underutilisation of potential household rooftop solar capacity.
With the tapering off of feed-in-tariffs, owners of solar have been frustrated they don’t receive a “fair” price for their home grown generation. On the other side of the fence, network operators have been concerned at the need to manage the technical impacts of solar PV and wind power to address the challenges of lower consumption.
Beyond the angst, new models such as microgrids and virtual power plants are starting to demonstrate that sharing solar PV generation and battery storage across the grid can leverage the opportunities and help manage the risks inherent in Australia’s changing electricity sector. For customers, potential benefits include access to wholesale pricing and retail tariffs. For networks, there can be lower costs from local control and load management, particularly if the models can reduce peak demand and avoid the need for network infrastructure augmentation.