SA network says housing developers keen on renewable micro-grids

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The operator of the electricity network in South Australia says there is growing interest among real estate developers in the development of renewable energy-based micro-grids.

The soaring cost of establishing new networks in new housing developments is pushing developers to think of new options to save money for consumers.

SA Power Networks (SAPN) says there have been numerous discussions with developers and service providers over how this many be done.

“We have been in discussions with various potential real estate developers who are interested in exploring options for microgrids, which includes combinations of solar/batteries installed on new homes and a grid connection for sharing of energy,” SAPN spokesman Paul Roberts said in an emailed statement.

“At this stage these have been options discussions and the challenge to them progressing is the commercial arrangements in terms of apportioning the costs and risks between the developer, home buyers and us as network operator.”

South Australia-based Zen Energy Systems, chaired by economist Professor Ross Garnaut, has announced it is looking at such microgrids in new developments, and other companies and developers are also thought to be exploring this space.

“Households, businesses and entire communities can now become genuinely self-powered, completely or substantially, depending on their circumstances and preference. Australia’s energy transformation has begun,” Garnaut said last year.

The company said earlier this week it was looking to rapidly increase the share of renewable energy in parts of its grid, to increase reliability and reduce costs – both for itself and its consumers.

It says it is talking with a number of remote towns on the feasibility of high penetration renewable energy micro-grids, that might focus on wind and/or solar power, plus diesel back-up or battery storage.

SAPN says this will be a cheaper option for the network than upgrading its extended grid, and also in making repairs to lines damaged by storms and fires. And it will increase safety.

Roberts says SAPN is also exploring opportunities to utilise “non-traditional” approaches to enabling new developments in the edge of grid applications.

“Such solutions may enable much more cost-effective ways to connect new customers in remote locations by utilising new technologies in combination with a thin network connection that requires little or no augmentation of existing infrastructure,” he says.

SAPN is also rolling out household battery storage trials, starting with members of staff, before rolling out what it says could be the biggest home battery trial in Australia.

The network is aiming to recruit 100 residents in suburban Adelaide in an area where SAPN needs to invest in increased capacity in the next few years due to localised demand growth.

“The trial would test the benefits for customers of solar/battery installations and whether they can help avoid the need to build additional network infrastructure/capacity,” Roberts says.


  • Ian

    What would be a household’s choices in a development where a microgrid supplies the electricity. Would that household be able to opt out and go off-(micro)grid or have their own connection to the wider grid, or utilise the microgrid distribution but deal only with the wider grid for supply and billing purposes. An owner in a new development which is designed to operate with a microgrid may be obliged to follow that microgrid’s rules but what of the situation where an existing suburb votes to cut ties with the main grid and create its own microgrid, would an existing owner be able to choose not to join the microgrid and continue with the wider grid?

    People often choose not to live in a village or block of units but in a free standing house because of the independence and lack of body corporate rules, now such freedom may be lost by having shared utilities in a mini grid situation.

    Just posing a problem to see what others thoughts would be.

    • Mike Dill

      Not surprisingly, a lot of people like living in planned developments, and accept the limitations. My guess is that remote communities will transition first, with the blessing of the utility. Getting further in, existing suburbs will not transition until everyone signs on. New developments and singe-owner residential and commercial complexes are less of a problem, and we will see those transition (at least in part) over the next five to ten years.

  • Aerial Fencer

    They will have to be really careful about the quality and capacity of the microgrid/storage the developer installs. e.g. New industrial developments, the developer will run low capacity LV services to each block “meeting” their obligations. Then when people start building factories the utility has to come in and install HV lines and lots of extra transformers. A cost that is addded to the tarriffs.