Victoria’s first ‘solar sponge’ community battery network to be developed


Yarra Energy Foundation, a not-for-profit primarily funded by the Yarra City Council, on Wednesday announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with CitiPower to pursue a new model of community batteries, the first of its kind in Victoria. Notably, the plan also involves crowdsourcing local investment.

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 which services 332,000 customers. While rooftop solar penetration in the service area is low, sitting at just 5%, the company expects it to rise to 24% by 2026, especially with the added bonus of battery access.

The project’s first phase is already underway, identifying trial sites, developing financial modelling and relationships with market service providers including energy retailers, as well as gauging community sentiment. So far, prospects look good with the companies saying they have already received interest from investors. This will then go on to inform second phase which involves deploying the batteries on a broader scale in late 2021.

As household batteries remain relatively expensive, Dean Kline, Chief Executive Officer at the Yarra Energy Foundation, described the new model of community battery ownership as “a smart solution to give households and businesses reliable and affordable energy when they need it.”

“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 project will also help the council reach its 100% renewable energy target by 2030, while also lowering prices for consumers and improving the quality of the electricity network.

While Australia’s community mid-scale segment is still burgeoning, 2020 saw a major push with start up Komo Energy growing its project pipeline as well as solar farm projects like Haystacks, Australia’s first large scale solar garden cooperative, taking root. In Western Australia, energy provider Western Power and Synergy’s innovative PowerBank trial of community batteries is also developing, with the Australian National University’s Dr Lachlan Blackhall saying the project illustrates exciting potential for mid-scale community battery storage in Australia.

“One of the most important things about community batteries is that they open up the opportunity for everybody — people who are renting, people who live in apartments — to benefit from having additional storage in the grid, whereas if you put a battery behind the meter in someone’s home that typically is limited to people who can afford to buy the battery, or who own their own home,” Dr Blackhall told pv magazine Australia.

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