Neighborhood Scale Solar Batteries: Future Feasibility in Australia – Power Issues
Batteries are a hot topic in the Australian renewable energy industry and an important part of the global transition to renewable energy. The rapid development of battery technology has made it possible to store and use solar and wind energy at any time. Community-scale solar batteries could be the next step in renewable energy storage in Australia and play a vital role in our transition to a decentralized grid. Here we look at what solar batteries are on a community scale, how they work, their benefits, and their future viability in Australia.
What are community-scale solar batteries?
A community solar battery, also known as Community-Scale Energy Storage (CES), is a shared neighborhood battery solution that enables households using solar power to pool excess electricity. At its core, a shared battery supports the grid by improving electricity reliability and smoothing the flow of electricity in a local area to allow continued use of rooftop solar panels.
A shared battery is typically the size of a four-wheel drive vehicle and offers 100 kW to 5 MW of storage that can potentially power hundreds of local households.
How do you work?
There are a number of different ownership models that a shared battery can operate under. A community battery can either be owned by the community and / or operated for the community (as virtual storage) or operated for the indirect benefit of the community (e.g. through returned profits).
Most of the community battery tests currently ongoing in Australia use a PowerBank battery storage solution. A PowerBank is another form of the shared battery model that integrates a large solar battery storage system into the existing power grid and at the same time offers customers the option of virtually storing their excess solar energy on the roof (usually up to a specified maximum kWh). Participating households can feed into the PowerBank during the day and draw electricity in the midday and evening peak when their solar system is no longer producing. This can save the customer money directly if he can buy back energy at a cheaper price than electricity from the grid.
Some business models only allow contributing households to access the stored energy, while others allow everyone to access it, whether or not they have a solar panel on the roof.
Two other types of community battery models are micro-grid batteries and virtual power plants (VPP). A microgrid battery can be used as an emergency power supply to help with disruptions in the main power grid, power interruptions due to storms, or as part of an independent microgrid for remote areas. Virtual power plants (VPP) differ from large community batteries in that they usually require the common input of several solar batteries (e.g.
Benefits of Community Solar Batteries
Community batteries have the potential to provide social, economic and technical benefits to the broader energy system. While not all models in the Community Battery Program offer the same benefits, here are some general benefits:
Lower energy costs: Community solar batteries allow you to buy back excess electricity at a lower price than the electricity offered by your dealer. Discharging batteries during peak times also makes “peak shaving” easier by offsetting peaks in electricity consumption that drive electricity prices up.
Increased reliability and stability of the power supply: Shared batteries make solar energy "visible" to network owners and operators and make it easier to manage daytime and peak load times.
Increased hosting capacity: The ability to integrate more decentralized energy resources (e.g. solar cells and electric vehicles) into the distribution grid without having to build more expensive grid systems to accept a reciprocal flow of electricity.
Energy equity: Community batteries offer a wider range of people the opportunity to take advantage of renewable resources. Although solar panels are cheaper than ever, they are still inaccessible to some members of the community who either cannot afford the upfront cost or have virtually no solar power to install on their roof (e.g. homeowners, tenants).
A greener grid: As more people use renewable energy, we are less dependent on traditional power sources, which reduces our CO2 emissions.
What about small battery storage systems for private households?
It goes without saying that Behind The Meter (BTM) battery systems are still expensive at the individual or household level. Preliminary results show that community-scale batteries offer better overall value than household batteries at their current price.
However, there are some benefits that BTM batteries offer that community solar cannot. The benefits include:
- Emergency power supply
- Increased solar self-consumption
- Billing management based on usage time
For households that want to reduce their dependence on the power grid, a BTM battery offers more independence. It really depends on the individual choice and the budget.
Future Feasibility of Community Batteries in Australia
There have been several attempts at municipal solar batteries in Australia. These trials, mainly by distribution networks like Western Power and Ausgrid, have shown the potential for future viability.
Two of the key lessons from the trials reported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are that community-scale batteries are already financially viable and that the technical capabilities to implement community-scale storage on the National Electricity Market (NEM) already exists.
However, there are a number of challenges that must be addressed before we can see the widespread adoption of community solar batteries. These are usually only formulated economically and conceptually, but just as important are the questions of how the benefits of the battery are distributed, how the risks should be dealt with and how all this should be regulated.
The future of community-scale solar batteries in Australia looks bright. We are still a few years away from widespread implementation, but the technology is available and trials are showing promising results.
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