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A “Solar Sponge” Community Battery Network

Photo Credit: Solar Victoria

Australian electricity distributor CitiPower and the Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF) hope to unlock the potential of community-scale battery storage in the Melbourne city center and inner-city suburbs.

The partnership will investigate a ground-breaking new model of community battery ownership including the crowdsourcing of local investment in what is considered a a first in the region. The aim is to create a network of batteries, or “solar sponges”, located on the low-voltage electricity network across inner Melbourne, operated by CitiPower. The unique trial will focus on creating a sustainable commercial model that delivers benefits for consumers and networks.

The project’s first phase is underway to identify the trial sites and gauge community sentiment as well as develop the potential funding model and relationships with market service providers including energy retailers. This will inform the second phase, which will aim to deploy the batteries on a broader scale in late 2021.

“The battery network would work as a solar sponge, absorbing power from solar during the day and releasing it during peak times and at night. This would provide customer, community and network benefits,” said Dean Kline, Chief Executive Officer at the Yarra Energy Foundation.

As household batteries remain relatively expensive, “shared batteries are a smart solution to give households and businesses reliable and affordable energy when they need it,” Mr Kline said.

Forecasts for the Australian solar market indicate that with more people working from home, higher than normal electricity consumption could make solar an even more attractive option for families and small businesses.

CitiPower’s General Manager, Electricity Networks, Mark Clarke said the penetration of rooftop solar in the CitiPower network was currently low, at around 5% of the 332,000 customers but was expected to reach 24% by 2026.

“With this renewable energy source growing it is a good time to be investigating the potential for connecting batteries to support the whole community,” Mr Clarke said.

“By sharing the batteries, customers can make the most of their investment in solar. It benefits all CitiPower customers, even if they don’t have rooftop solar, as batteries help reduce the cost of building network capacity to accommodate more power and manage localised peak demand, particularly in summer.”

The first battery is expected to be trialed later in 2021. Financial modelling has commenced and the project has already received interest from investors.

Yarra Energy Foundation is a not-for-profit providing services and advice to homes and businesses that want better energy, with core funding provided by Yarra City Council.

CitiPower owns and operates the distribution network that delivers electricity to over 332,000 residential households and commercial customers across Melbourne’s CBD and inner suburbs and is one of the most efficient networks in the National Electricity Market.

About Tom Breunig (203 Articles)
Tom Breunig is principal at Cleantech Concepts, a market research firm tracking R&D projects in the cleantech sector. He is a technology industry veteran and former international marketing and communications executive who has worked with organizations in semiconductor design, water monitoring, energy efficiency and environmental sensing. He has spoken at numerous technology and energy conferences.
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