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Reporting on the national Neighbourhood Battery Conference

Woman at lectern with  presentation slide behind
Sally Hunter Presenting at the Conference

Geni.Energy presented at the second Annual Neighbourhood Battery Conference at ANU in Canberra this week, hosted by the Battery Storage and Grid Integration team.

The room was filled with a lovely blend of technical brainiacs, community minded hard workers and very smart academics, along with solutions oriented network people (such as Essential Energy) and government agencies who have funded various community batteries.

The main vibe was that community batteries of various forms do provide an important function in the grid and that we need more of them at all scales in the future. The feeling was that there were still a number of unresolved challenges, one of the big ones being how to ensure community benefits are created and passed through to communities.

The feeling was that although a vast majority of the community battery projects are being implemented by the networks (i.e. poles and wires owners), a variety of ownership structures such as Geni.Energy's model, are important.

This blog dosn't seek to cover off on all the points made by every speaker, but reflect on the community experiences.

The keynote address was provided by Kerry Schott AO (also AGL board member) who made the point that what we are facing now is a complete and utter upheaval and do-over of the National Electricity Market (NEM) as the coal fired power plants exit.

As has been announced for a number of years, >62% of the existing coal fleet will be gone by 2033 due to being retired by the industry. In NSW, Erraring will exit soon, Bayswater by 2030, with Vales Point and Mount Piper not far behind them and all could exit earlier than planned because they cannot keep up

with their maintenance as they age.

But in terms of what this means for the grid reliability Ms Schott advised that most people “should have a Bex and lie down”. That is, the experts managing the NEM do not anticipate any loss of power to people.

She noted that in September, 70% of the grid was supported by instantaneous renewable energy. The ultimate of AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) is to fully manage 75% coverage, by renewables at all times, which we are not quite at yet. She noted that of these renewables, about half was from small scale household and business solar, with a 31% growth in DER (distributed energy resources – or small scale solar) just this year. This is a massive contribution from every day people.

The challenge this creates is that rather than the grid having to manage for peak demand as a primary focus, it now has to manage for new lows in demand during the middle of the day. When once it was about matching supply to the demand, and assuming there is constant demand, now there is a focus on pushing the excess supply to other times – thus the importance of battery storage. However, there is currently less than 5% of residential wall batteries in the system.

Kerry pointed out that around 70% of inverters currently in the system are non compliant which makes orchestration of the solar power impossible and people being able to participate “beyond the meter” is therefore impossible. This means those solar systems are not helpful to the bigger grid system.

She raised that the next big upheaval to the grid is through EVs. There is currently 9.8% penetration of EV's and when Europe got to 10%, it was a tipping point for extremely rapid uptake by all.

Kerry’s other great quote was “electricity is the new iphone revolution” and it will all happen much more quickly than we thought. But she was quick to point out that the true challenge is how to ensure that it is an equitable transition.

The next speaker; Geoff Acton was representing Zero Emissions Noosa (ZEN) who are also a recipient of the federal government community battery funding, in partnership with Noosa Shire Council in Queensland. He was able to give us an update on their project, which is facing similar challenges to Narrabri’s and has come to similar solutions to us. Just like us, they have partnered with Acacia Energy as their energy aggregator.

We look forward to ongoing discussions with Noosa to compare and contrast our experiences. In particular Geoff explained it has been a very long and windy road they have been on, but they were grateful to have back up from the Council which helped their community group considerably. His comment to the networks, government and academics was clearly “pull your finger out, we don’t have much time”, from the perspective of the climate emergency.

two people standing in front of a battery
Sally undertook a tour of the ANU's laboratory with Essential Energy's Sylvia Mare, pictured here with the Pixii battery similar to the one to be installed at Narrabri.

Nick Mason-Smith from Indigo Power gave a great case example from Yakandandah in Victoria where they have found success in a behind-the-meter battery connected to an old sawmill shed with significant solar generation but only fairly small behind-the-meter consumption. This allows them to use the solar and battery to provide network services (i.e. support the grid) and participate in the market (i.e. buy/sell excess energy). He made the point that currently we mostly size the solar to suit the load (i.e. match the generation with the consumption at the site) but he believes more and more that we will size the solar systems (or batteries) to match the connection point, as better tariffs start to allow for commercial activity.

Emma Birchall hails from Hayfield in Victoria and they have been undertaking a modelling project with the UTS’s Institute of Sustainable Futures. Her community's priority is that the community battery is a very visible sign of energy self-sufficiency. They assessed four different models for delivering the community battery including a range of battery capacities and a mix of behind-the-meter and in front-of-the-meter solutions. Ultimately they found that no models were possible without government funding support. The front-of-the-meter example became viable at 75% of the capital costs covered by a grant and the behind-the-meter version found profitability at 50% funding. Interestingly, they found the larger the scale of battery, the less viable, with the most appealing option around a 15kWh battery. More details about these assumptions can be found here.

Yarra Energy Foundation’s (YEF) Chris Wallin is almost an old hand in community batteries, having operated one for more than a year. YEF has amassed lots of resources for us all to learn from but for his situation in Victoria, land is the largest bottleneck. For this reason he proposed to the room an ultra-narrow, low noise, small profile community battery design perfect for suburban areas.

A number of images of Geni.Energy
Geni.Energy's photo collage used at the conference

For me the day had a wonderful productive and colligative vibe to it. I made some excellent contacts for future collaborations.

I was especially pleased to hear from Essential Energy on the range of excellent initiatives they are undertaking. On top of the three community batteries they were funded for in the same funding round, they also have a laboratory to test grid responses to different technologies. They are also working on helping people fully electrify and preparing the grid for the Christmas rush of EV's wanting to charge!

Attending this event has solidified my resolve to ensure the Narrabri Community Battery Trial Project is a huge success!

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