National energy market reform is one step closer following the recent announcement of two trials in Western Australia that will enable new ways of storing and transferring excess solar energy.
The Alkimos Beach development to the city’s north is set to become a carbon neutral neighbourhood and will host a community energy storage facility aimed at softening peak energy demand while still remaining connected to the grid.
State land developer LandCorp’s chief operating officer Dean Mudford said the size of the energy storage trial at Alkimos was unprecedented.
“The scale of the Alkimos Beach Energy Storage Trial is understood to be the first of its kind in Australia, utilising energy storage technology at the residential community level,” Mr Mudford said.
“The trial will provide a better understanding of how community scale infrastructure, when combined with an energy smart home package, metering and data capability, new retail products and services, and other behavioural change programs may help manage and reduce household energy costs.”
WA’s largest retail energy provider, Synergy, will be responsible for the retail tariffs offered to customers through the $3.3 million Australian Renewable Energy Agency funded trial.
To the City’s south, White Gum Valley is a sustainable development comprising a variety of dwelling options and will include solar storage and transfer within one its small strata projects, “Gen Y”.
The success of Gen Y has led to $3 million in funding from ARENA to look at a large scale application of solar storage at other buildings within WGV.
Mr Mudford said both trials had broad appeal, with “global interest” in the Alkimos Beach project as well as rapid expansion of shared solar at WGV.
“The technology, metering and monitoring, and strata management for the Gen Y trial was always intended to lead the way for greater take up of renewable energy in multi-residential developments,” he said.
“The application for ARENA funding came about through the desire of LandCorp, Curtin University and Solar Balance to build on the success of the Gen Y trial and apply the technology and governance models to three larger multi-residential developments at White Gum Valley.”
While the Alkimos project will focus on load balancing the network, the trials at WGV will explore how to maximise shared infrastructure and energy for strata households, as well as facilitating the concept of “citizen utility” and the potential for households to move off the grid.
The path to shared solar in strata nationally
Jemma Green, a research fellow at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, whose PhD research was behind the shared solar project at Gen Y, will be coordinating the ARENA-funded research at WGV. This will lead to the development of a national governance framework for shared energy in strata developments, expected to be released in 18 months.
According to Ms Green, 26-28 per cent of housing stock in Australia is strata, and with future development likely to be higher density and infill, the market for exploring energy production and exchange in multi-residential developments will only increase.
The potential for major reforms cannot be underestimated.
“It’s massive” Ms Green said. “I’m so excited.”
A national framework will include how strata laws work with billing, the network and tariffs across jurisdictions, as well as how buildings can trade electricity with one another.
“All these different stakeholders have a role to play in a national framework,” Ms Green said.
While differences across the nation are expected, Ms Green is confident that rolling out a national framework is feasible, subject to “required reform to optimise the system”. Ms Green is aware that “policy uncertainty is a risk” but states that, importantly, there is a “point of difference … consumers want this”.
“[This project is] unlocking the potential for citizens to make use of their resources [to] unlock the capital of their roof spaces.”
Ms Green’s research has explored energy network operators’ potential to “fight, flight or innovate” when confronted with what she calls “disruptive innovation”, but stresses that minimising peak demand will result in lesser maintenance costs and upgrades to electricity networks.
WA’s network operator Western Power is part of the trial at WGV and Ms Green says this bodes well for interest in other states.
“It is fantastic that Western Power is part of this research,” she said.
WA leading the country
Energy Minister Mike Nahan said WA was leading the charge on renewables.
“The state government is a huge supporter of renewable energy and WA continues to the lead the way in this space,” he said.
“Western Australians have well and truly embraced renewable energy, with about 20 per cent of the state’s households having chosen to install rooftop solar systems to help manage their energy needs.”
Recently, the WA government also announced that battery storage systems can now export excess electricity into the network.
“That decision has paved the way for the take-up of the next phase of new energy technology, allowing WA households to export unused electricity from their storage systems into the South West Interconnected System,” Dr Nahan said.