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Resourceful Communities Smarten Up the Grid

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On Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula –a favourite weekend getaway for many Melbournians – a small group of residents are about to attempt an important feat for energy-conscious consumers everywhere.

 

Faced with another costly upgrade to their local poles and wires network, residents have banded together to try and solve their electricity supply problems themselves.

 

Keen to secure reliable supply during times of peak demand in Summer, businesses and households from the bustling suburban hub of Rosebud to Portsea at its Southern-most tip, are forming their own “smart-grid.”

 

Groundbreaking smart grid emerges in Victoria

The idea behind the “Mornington Peninsula Community Grids Project” is to tap into self-generated energy and localised energy storage to shore up smooth, cost-effective electricity supply.

 

The upshot for the businesses involved is to avoid the constraint problems that strike in the hot, Summer months, and thereby take some of the sting out of their air-conditioning and electricity bills.

 

The project, which will be realised over the next five years, is regarded as groundbreaking in the evolution of smart grid infrastructure.

 

It is one of only a few in the world to combine new, ‘off-grid’ technology with the imprimatur of a major utility, according to project partner, GreenSync.

 

In this case, the utility has partnered with technology start-up GreenSync to co-ordinate the five-year project, which is believed to be saving some $30 million in network upgrades.

 

Battery storage uptake set to transform the grid

According to Dr. Matt Wenham, executive manager of policy and projects at The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, more and more utilities will embark on similar initiatives in coming years as they realize the value of tapping into the distributed generation created by solar PV’s and home battery storage.

 

“We’re starting to see utilities and consumers take a different attitude to the traditional electricity grid,” says Dr. Wenham. “Whereas the traditional approach has been to solve these demand problems by gold-plating the network and put in lots of costly transmission lines and poles, utilities are starting to get a bit smarter and say, ‘Well perhaps rather than spend a lot of money on that we’d be better to put in localized storage that we can regulate that then allows us to smooth out the demand profile a bit.”

 

As home battery storage becomes more viable, the requirement to have intelligent networks in place is growing, he says:

 

“As we see the network move more towards this distributed generation model and as storage starts to come in, to maximize that kind of model you need that kind of smart grid to make sure that can be optimized in terms of smoothing out the peaks and building-in the storage aspect of it.”

 

“Again, with the rise of the ‘prosumer,’ or people being able to supply energy into the grid, there are a lot of moving parts that have to be facilitated by that kind of intelligent network.”

 

The Mornington Peninsula Grids Project will kick off this Summer with a small-scale trial testing. Full roll-out of the project is expected to take place in 2018.

 

Would you form your own community-grid if you had the chance? Why would you do it? As battery storage and polar PV systems become more popular and the grid increasingly decentralised, should utilities be doing more to facilitate community-grid projects such as this? Share your thoughts below.