The ACT government reckons thereâ€™s a gap between the household battery and grid-scale batteries: community batteries, either owned by or at least serving the needs of collectives of households.
In the case of the ACT, the new 700-home development of Jacka is designed to have solar panels on every house, so the government and Evoenergy are partnering with the Australian National University to see whether a community battery would suit the development.
In a streamed seminar last week, the Australian National Universityâ€™s Energy Conversations heard from researchers Dr Marnie Shaw (of the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration program), and sociologist Dr Hedda Ransan-Cooper (research fellow in the Battery Storage and Grid Integration program), who discussed the challenges facing community batteries in terms of market and community acceptance.
Community batteries (in scale, ten to 100 times the size of the typical household battery) are being trialled in Western Australia â€“ with a Tesla unit currently trialling in the Perth suburb of Ellenbrook and another heading for Kalgoorlie-Boulder among them. In the eastern states, NEM regulation is the hurdle: Dr Shaw explained while itâ€™s logical for a generator to own and operate the battery, those organisations arenâ€™t allowed to trade directly with consumers.
So Dr Shawâ€™s work focuses on what (if anything) needs to change to enable community batteries on the east coast, and as part of that, her team modelled the viability of a 500kWh battery in the Jacka community.
Her teamâ€™s two key findings are that a community battery would generate customer savings double the cost of the battery; and that it would support more solar power installed on houses in the development.
As we know, household solar electricity exports are becoming a headache for grid operators. The industry has recently proposed technical guidelines for freeing data from behind the meter so that exports are more manageable, and last year we heard SA Power was experimenting with dynamic export limits to try to avoid zero-rating households with solar power systems.
Dr Shaw told the seminar home solar batteries are already helping solve grid issues, by reducing exports by around 25%, but community batteries reduce exports by around 50%.
The ACT Suburban Land Agencyâ€™s Rob Thorman emphasised the importance of managing exports: Jackaâ€™s 700 homes will, if unmanaged, certainly push enough electricity into the grid to cause disruption.
So, while the community battery is technically and financially feasible, it would need an answer to the regulatory question â€“ who best to own the battery?
Thatâ€™s where Dr Ransan-Cooperâ€™s work as a sociologist comes in. There are plenty of alternatives to the grid operator owning the community battery (the state government, the local council, or the community, for example) â€“ the question is which model is most likely to be attractive to the community the battery serves.
In her surveys and focus group work, Dr Ransan-Cooper said energy professionals are clear that community batteries offer a:
â€śhuge range of benefitsâ€ť, including â€śstabilising the grid, avoiding grid upgrades, and building trust in the NEMâ€ť.
Itâ€™s at the community level that the concept has to be â€śsoldâ€ť, because itâ€™s an unfamiliar concept to the ordinary householder.
â€śTo be successful, community storage would have to either fit with the existing electricity system or if it canâ€™t, itâ€™s got to stretch or transform it in some way,â€ť Dr Ransan-Cooper told the seminar.
Dr Ransan-Cooper said one of the most important aspects of the community battery is that it helps overcome one of the thorniest renewable energy issues â€“ equity. Too many households are excluded from the household renewables revolution, either because they canâ€™t afford household PV, or because theyâ€™re renters or apartment owners. Being able to take electricity from a community battery lets those groups participate in the world of residential renewables.
â€śLocal storage could fit with pretty minimal to no regulatory changes â€“ but community concerns about the nature of the electricity systems mean there is the possibility for this to be more disruptive,â€ť she said.
The ANU teamâ€™s research with householders found people are more comfortable the closer to â€śhomeâ€ť the battery is owned because they like the idea of taking back more local control of the governance of their energy system (rather like the by-now-ancient model, in which local government built and owned electricity generation).
Dr Ransan-Cooper said having the batteries owned and operated at close to the local level recognises that electricity is:
â€śa social good, not necessarily just an individual goodâ€ť.
And community-level ownership of the battery keeps money closer to the community, she added.
Authorâ€™s note: Engineers and tech people are apt to dismiss the social sciences, so itâ€™s gratifying to see the ANU getting sociological research in such an important project â€“ RC