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Developers to use storage to keep new housing estates off grid

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The rapid change in the way electricity is delivered to customers is about to be highlighted by a new project that will see a new housing estate built without being connected to the grid. The idea has the support of the government of South Australia, a state which already sources 40 per cent of its electricity from wind and solar.

The idea has been freely talked about in the past year by network operators, particularly those with large regional operations such as Queensland, Western Australian and South Australia.

In WA, the energy minister raised the possibility that the mining town of Ravensthorpe may go off-grid, as much due to safety and reliability factors as it is with economics.

In Queensland, regional network operator Ergon says it may make sense to take individuals and communities off-grid, and it is already installing battery storage to ease the pressure on its remote network, and to allow for more localised renewable energy generation, rather than transporting electrons from far-flung coal-fired generators.

In South Australia, the network operator also agrees it will make sense for regional communities to look after their own electricity needs, through local renewable generation and storage, and either cut the wire to the main grid, or reduce its size.

The economics for new housing developments is even more compelling, given the huge costs of connecting them to the grid.

Now, the first major commercial housing developments to go ahead without a grid connection may be announced soon. Developers are looking at the idea of becoming a utility.

South Australian solar energy and battery storage company Zen Energy Systems last week flagged it was in talks with housing developers to build energy self-reliant housing estates that don’t need to be connected to the main electricity grid.

“We are having many housing developers coming to us for new housing estates saying – ‘look can you take me through all the options’ … right through to taking the whole development off the grid,” CEO Richard Turner told a seminar hosted by the Planning Institute and Engineers Australia, according to the local website InDaily.

“We’re talking to probably half a dozen major developers around the country who have housing developments of two, three, four thousand homes, talking about some sort of hybrid network alternative.” The hybrid alternatives include rooftop solar, battery storage, and micro gas generators.

“From the developer’s point of view they’re saying ‘can I be the utility?’,” Turner said. “Yes you can – you can be the utility, the retailer. It opens up a whole new world of how we can live.”

This points back to the recent prediction by Ron Stobbe, the head of SA Power Networks, that grid operators like his may find a role in the future facilitating such developments, but there would be little or no room for conventional centralised generation, or electricity retailers as they are currently structured.

It is not just new developments though. Turner also said he was studying the feasibility of removing SA towns from the electricity network using a combination of rooftop solar, wind and other options such as cogeneration.

“If we transferred those towns to micro-grids that relied on local generation and local storage of renewable energy, and took them off the main transmission grid eventually, with community-owned models … then we would have a much more efficient system,” he said.

“That would then make our city networks much more efficient and translate to a lower cost of power for everyone. It’s almost turning the clock back 100 years and giving these towns back their old power stations.”

The concept appears to have the approval of the state government, which has overseen developments that mean more than 40 per cent of the state’s electricity needs comes from wind and solar.

State Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily that localised generation was a good option for the future of regional towns and for individuals to save costs.

“With one in four household customers in SA now using solar PV systems, and as energy storage devices such as batteries reduce in cost, there is enormous potential for customers to offset their electricity usage and, in future, be serviced by more localised generation and energy storage,” he said.

“As the cost of battery technology declines, it is likely to be more cost-effective to have localised generation in some more remote locations, rather than have a monopoly maintain and upgrade antiquated transmission systems, in which the cost is ultimately passed on to consumers.”

Energy Ministers have released a consultation paper to consider appropriate regulatory frameworks. Submissions to that paper close at the end of the month.

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  • john

    In remote area where the transmission losses are over 10% this would be very applicable.
    Ergon as mentioned has terrible losses in its long distance distribution network and would help to foster the local communities going off grid as it would save a lot of subsidy.
    Those near power generations centres are paying more than they should for the transmission losses to far flung areas use of power.
    However in near suburban areas while it may be true that using RE and storage may be cheaper we do have a problem this is because of the inherent expend in the network built into the price of power.
    So how to resolve this as a community that looks after all.
    Remember all taxpayers paid for the network before changes in technology has made the expend a liability.
    Situation 1;- We write down the value of the capital expend and charge less.
    Situation 2:- We just levy each taxpayer to pay for it.
    Situation 3:- Treat it like a business, try to pay for it by lowering charge.
    Situation 4:- Be proactive and foster decentralised power and keep in the game.
    I think Sit 4 is the sensible way to go as then the network as a whole is still connected and everyone benefits.

    • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

      The issue with long distance feeders losses is reduced when the remote community uses RE sources, batteries and energy management principles and equipment and smart grid tech.
      It would be wise to keep these long lines to share the resources along, at the lower loss level.
      Also we may have to consider that in the near future, electric vehicles will be travelling along roads that many of these lines follow, if that is the case then these lines may be needing to supply service station, sub stations for electric refuelling.

      • john

        In Australia I see EV as a commute vehicle.
        Because of the long distances in Australia I would find it hard to believe a person would do a 2000km trip stopping every 200-300 kms to recharge.
        I do take note however of your argument that the grid will be needed for the foreseeable future to stabilise our network and we are actually fortunate that we do have it down the east coast.

        • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

          It might just be travel, within a few hundred k’s, but such a vehicle would need a recharge somewhere and that charge would need to be impressive to deliver say to deliver the 80kWh in 15 mins, such as a single Tesla recharge station needs, recharging multiple vehicles all day, at a service station, along side a feeder, might take a small sub station, to supply it.

          • john

            disqus
            During the day Tesla will have fast charge stations that are powered by solar.
            However I am hearing you if the battery back up at the charge station goes down yes they will need the grid and in fact it looks like the grid will have a future exactly because of this need .
            In fact Australia is rather fortunate because of the grid that it will have a future however it has to be written down to its real value as a company would have to do.

          • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

            Yes john you can see that a busy servo charging a few vehicles at a time, all day, might need a MW sized solar array and MWhr storage to supply these, if grid connected solar farms were supplying this infrastructure, it would be advisable to keep the grid connection for bidirectional flow and parameter stabilisation, smart grid could be used to control the RE and storage, off peak, but yes the capability to store and forward puts pressure on the networks and retailers.

          • john

            The grid will cope no problem.
            However as I said we are rather luck to have such a strong grid.

          • nakedChimp

            then the fuel station corporations should be looking into buying the grid, no? 😉

            PS: one of our local Ergon depots has a sign on a tree ‘don’t sell assets, keep our jobs’ or something along those lines.. one day I should try to meet them and ask them what they are afraid of, as the local grid maintenance as their service will still be needed, no matter if they are still called Ergon or whatever.. especially with all the RE being feed into local towns from a bit further away.

          • Smurf1976

            What they’d be afraid of is the grid being sold to a private owner who then slashes maintenance and thus the workforce, and brings in cheap labour on 457 visas to do what work remains. Similar things have happened in other industries so it’s a valid concern. Meanwhile government will inevitably blow the money raised from privatisation such that a few years down the track the money is gone, a lot of jobs are gone, and we’ve got important infrastructure owned by foreigners interested only in profit. Privatisation – for every instance where it has worked well, there’s far more where it has lead to an outright rip-off of the community, workers and taxpayers. Keep it publicly owned.

          • john

            Talking of 457 visa workers I have seen this in operation.
            The company sacked the work force saying we lost the tender then got 457 visa workers in to do the next contract this has been going of for 3 years and is a honey pot for the company.

          • Ronald Brakels

            It is likely many of the workers won’t be needed for quite some time if the transmission capacity becomes privately owned. This is because a government owned transmission network might have a discount rate of 5% or less. This means they are willing to spend $1 on maintenance if it saves them $1.05 in repairs in a year’s time. Because the state government can raise money for 5% (or less) it makes sense to do less than this amount of maintenance because it would result in the need to do more costly repairs later and would be a waste of taxpayer’s money. Private companies tend to have discount rates of 9% or higher, so they will only do $1 worth of maintenance if it saves them $1.09 cents in repairs in a year’s time. So when a private company takes over public assets, it generally gets what are, from its point of view, assests that are massively over maintained. So the logical thing for the company to do is to simply let the assests deteriorate until $1 worth of maintenance saves them $1.09 worth of repairs in one year’s time. So this means many maintenance people get sacked now, with maybe some being hired back after a few years once entropy has done its job.

          • john

            The reason they had the sign out is because privatising of Ergon after it is sold means they will not have a job but they can become contractors; so they have to supply their own equipment their own vehicles and tender for a job.
            When Telstra went private they got rid of the documentation on for instance PABX installs.
            So the poor buggers (contractors) who had to go give support were flying blind and they were on contract not exactly a good way to be able to give service.
            Ergon has already contracted out meter reading so this means the person doing the job has to carry insurance for any damage he/she does reading a meter, they have a set number to read each day fail and they get paid less.
            Each year you realise they have to tender hmm may work but the bottom line is that those who can do it without any training will be favoured.

        • Pete

          But the day will come when the body of the car is a solar panel (or solar panels) that will give at least a partial recharge while traveling (on sunny days) thus extending the range between full recharges.

  • ChrisEcoSouth

    Beware the “lock-in” – when you have to buy something as a condition of a “package”, that’s when prices rise because you have no alternative, if you want the package.
    To keep competition in, and therefore the price of household grid-battery systems down, a number of providers should be able to offer them.
    These grid-interactive systems are not new – we have offered variants of them for the last 15 years!

    • john

      We have not had any grid interactive at all what you have seen is a variant of time of use charge.

      • ChrisEcoSouth

        Depends on definitions I suppose. I would put into the “grid-interactive” category, anything that would charge batteries either with grid-up or grid-down, and export to the grid when excess PV available.

        • john

          Chris as far as I know I do not think we have seen any interactive export from battery or EV on the market so far.
          Please avail me of any information that informs me of this development.
          Yes over the ditch in NZ you can get PV and a Battery and they manage it and you get free however as far as I know not in Australia.

          • ChrisEcoSouth

            From our web-site:
            “Load-levelling & Load-shifting

            Grid Battery systems may also be capable of ‘load management’ of your house’s electricity:

            ‘Load-leveling’
            – minimises import from grid during the day – that part of any
            momentary draw above your export, will be drawn from battery instead, which will then be topped up (via solar) when the momentary load has ceased

            ‘Load-shifting’ – running appliances from battery for a
            limited period after sundown. The batteries remain slightly discharged overnight, and recharged the following day from power that would otherwise be exported.
            This gives the advantage of maximising the in house use of your solar production, reducing your energy imports and minimising energy exports (which customer now receive less $ value for, compared with their imports)

            These are complex and presently costly to implement, and
            a number of systems are appearing on the market. EcoSouth will offer these once satisfied with the technical/economic viability, support and the forecast lifetime of such systems. These systems may be able to be cost-justified if you have unreliable grid power (frequent power cuts) in your area, as load management systems can also be capable of
            supplying power during a power cut (dependent on the equipment provided for your solution)

            As these are complex systems, tailor made options will generally be the most effective solution.”

          • john

            I am hearing you however here is the problem.
            Yes it is possible to put in PV and Battery and a good control system but will the supplier pay you for excess energy you have to supply them when the system has excess power available?
            Actually the technology is not that costly lets admit.

          • ChrisEcoSouth

            Yes – various grid-battery inverters are able to be approved in SA. Anything exported will be paid the current regulated retailer (minimum) payment of 5.3c per kWh. The economics of it aren’t good for load-shifting, at present, in ‘standard’ metropolitan situations.

          • john

            oh ok
            However even at 5.3c that is above most of the grid price most of the time.
            As you know the price of Storage is going down even as we speak I expect the long time cost of storage to go only one way down.
            Yes atm it is above 5.3c however it is expected to plummet because of the huge expenditure and implementation in this area I do not see it going up any time soon.

  • PaulW

    Community owned grids are nothing new. Legislation just needs some work to bring it in line with local consumer protections and expectations.
    But in a metro environment do you really want have the expense and responsibility of a 24/7/365 off-grid energy system? Have zero exports? What about being able to use mains-gas for electricity generation as well? Would I trust a for-profit developer?
    The conversation needs to be broadened considerably, but I’m all for it.

    • john

      I do not see mains gas in this area for urban.
      It is possible as a micro grid however hmm urban has to be a complete new development situation to achieve this.

    • Chris Fraser

      That idea about a for-profit network manager developing the grid is a darned good one, and a distinct thread that lies outside recent discussion about the merits of selling or leasing the network.The future design of the grid is going to be the best means of having our energy traded and delivered efficiently. From reading this blog, i have arrived at the conclusion that since 2007 our increased tariffs have gone mostly into building grid capacity, and generally quite wasted. Legislation will be an important part of protecting consumer rights. Since the sale of MacGen to AGL i think we have experienced a bad taste of privately owned enterprise rent seeking and corporate boycotting of broader social requirements of RET.So network managers will have to get used to a raft of technology upgrades throughout their tenure. If they can’t or won’t get it done, they’ll need to be aware we can bring in somebody who can.

  • Steven Zilm

    Fair dinkum’… A good idea for the future??? ….Well why does the SA Electricity Act prohibit selling stored energy back to the grid?

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