What does it mean?
Microgrids are small electrical grids where electricity is locally generated, circulated and used. Community batteries are an innovative way to rethink conventional energy networks, often utilising rooftop solar panel systems and community storage systems to supply energy.
What is the challenge in WA?
Widespread microgrids and community batteries are a relatively new concept, and right now WA is experiencing slow system change in the uptake of this technology. It’s also been a challenge to implement the infrastructure required to capture and store sufficient energy to meet demand.
As we found in our 2022 Community Power Roundtable:
“Previously the energy system was designed for energy to flow in one direction – from generator to distributor to customer. Energy was mainly generated from oil, gas or coal power plants and sent out on ‘poles and wires’ to distributors to allocate to paying customers.
With customers now able to generate their own electricity, this disruption means that we need to rethink energy across the whole sector to ensure reliable supply and affordable energy. However, most renewable energy generation is intermittent and requires storage.
Early adopters of renewable energy at a household level installed solar panels and claimed generous feed-in tariffs for the excess power they generated and returned to the system, effectively becoming small-scale power generators. Tariffs have decreased over the years and are now minimal, so there’s less of a financial incentive to install solar.
The additional energy generated, particularly at peak times when there was a lot of sunshine and lower energy use, meant that the energy flowing into the system was causing problems with the generating system, which can’t respond rapidly in real-time to energy availability and demand. Batteries have smoothed out some of these demand issues, but they are expensive and limited in uptake.
Community power is the localised generation and use of renewable energy either from solar, wind, micro-hydro, or other renewable sources. How that power is distributed and used can happen in several ways, such as community batteries, virtual power plants, embedded networks and so on.”
Why is it important to take action?
The energy sector is the highest contributor to Australia’s net greenhouse gas emissions. Microgrids and community battery systems that deliver cheap, clean renewable energy can reduce emissions and support reliable energy delivery by reducing reliance on the grid.
What action is being taken?
The Australian Federal Government has committed to reducing emissions and supporting innovative renewable energy technologies through the Renewable Energy Target. The Western Australian Government is committed to transforming the energy sector through its Energy and Transformation Strategy, which looks at moving from a coal-fired energy grid to renewable energy alternatives such as microgrids and community batteries powered by rooftop solar panels. The Future Battery Industry Strategy is also being utilised to source investors and commit to research and development on the uptake of new battery technologies.
Western Power and Synergy are leading participants in the trial of community batteries and microgrids across Western Australia. There are 13 community batteries across the state energy grid, including larger exemplars like Perenjori and smaller exemplars like Power-Bank batteries. The City of Mandurah has had high uptake of rooftop solar systems and has incorporated two community batteries as part of the Power-Bank community battery trial. The initial battery is located in Meadow Springs and was successful in reducing energy prices and providing renewable energy to participants who didn’t have rooftop solar panels. Such exemplars show a way to rethink the business-as-usual energy supply and open the door to energy that is locally generated and distributed.
What more can be done?
Energy legislative and compliance issues require constant reviewing to keep pace with the fast-changing opportunities technological advances are offering. For example, Synergy has the monopoly on energy retailing and has to date resisted adaptation at the perceived speed many believe is needed.
Renters and people using social housing are dependent on a landlord for renewable energy assets – and sometimes for their energy supplier, too. We need to build inclusion into renewable energy now through rebates and higher standards for social housing.
Additionally, sectors like transport and housing need to move on renewable energy together. Electric vehicle (EV) batteries are up to 5 times larger than house batteries. The roll-out of charging stations in homes needs to speed up in order to increase EV take-up. As such, sectoral coupling is an essential opportunity for community battery systems and needs more advocacy.
By supporting Local Government Authorities to implement microgrid trials and working with housing authorities to unlock battery potential, Clean State believes significant progress can be made. If you want to help expedite the process, reach out to your local or state MP and let them know you want microgrids and community batteries in your neighbourhood today!