City council powers ahead with 4 MW virtual power network


Hobsons Bay City Council, in Melbourne’s southwest, has commenced the roll out of its Large Scale Solar Installation Program with 4 MW of solar PV to be installed across dozens of council-owned assets.

The program will allow for the sharing of solar-generated energy among council-owned buildings, reducing council’s reliance on grid-supplied energy and helping it achieve its goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Hobsons Bay Mayor Jonathon Marsden said the individual rooftop solar systems will generate renewable energy onsite with any surplus power to be moved from one building to another within the network.

The project has been dubbed a Virtual Energy Network (VEN) by council due to the absence of an energy storage component usually associated with  Virtual Power Plants (VPP) but the design does allow for the addition of batteries in the future.

Council is also exploring a community access model that would potentially allow households and businesses to participate in the energy network as a green energy generator or consumer.

Marsden said the distributed solar program would offer substantial benefits for the Hobsons Bay community but could also be used as a blueprint for other local government areas.

“We are sourcing innovative solutions using cutting-edge technology to reduce carbon emissions and produce almost 4 MW of low-cost green electricity,” he said.

“Our virtual power project provides substantial environmental, community and economic benefits, as well as creating local jobs.

“Importantly, it has the capacity to be expanded or replicated across the western region, Melbourne or Victoria, stimulating the same surge of benefits in communities across the state.

“We look forward to future opportunities to partner with the state government to expand the impact and benefits of this program.”

Solar installations have already been completed on some council buildings.

Image HBCC

Hobsons Bay City Council already has a number of rooftop solar systems installed across its assets, including a 50 kW array on Altona North Community Library and a 55 kW system atop the Altona Meadows Library and Learning Centre.

Work has now commenced at the Altona Civic Centre which will host a 402 kW solar PV system, the Newport Community Hub (55 kW), and the Laverton community building (99 kW).

Melbourne-based firm Enervest has been appointed to oversee the design and installation of the rooftop solar system while Circle Energy has been engaged to provide the technology to transfer the renewable energy between buildings.

Enervest managing director Ross Warby said the project demonstrates great forward thinking and initiative for both the Hobsons Bay area and the broader community.

“The program will offset a significant amount of emissions related to electricity supply and champion the uptake of further renewables throughout the network,” he said.

When complete the system is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 4,000 tonnes per year, or about 55% of council’s total carbon emissions.

Council expects savings on energy costs will repay its infrastructure investment in the project within nine years.

The rooftop solar program is just one of the renewable energy initiatives implemented by council which has also adopted a fleet of electric vehicles, installed of a 50 kW DC electric vehicle fast-charging station for community use and signed on to participate in a collaborative Victorian Local Government power purchase agreement (PPA).

“We are doing our bit to be carbon neutral by 2020 and that is by reducing our base energy usage and by embracing more sustainable energy sources,” Marsden said. “We anticipate that all of these changes will result in a 70% reduction in our base energy consumption over the next 10 years.”

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