One of the Victorian regions hardest hit by the catastrophic Black Summer of 2019/2020 has been fitted with its first grid-connected community battery storage system, as part of a state government-backed plan to improve energy services in bushfire prone regions.
AusNet Services said on Thursday that it had installed Gippsland’s first community battery in the fishing town of Mallacoota, a 1MWh BESS that had the potential to power 1,000 average homes for roughly two hours, and up to one day when combined with a generator.
AusNet said the lithium-ion battery and generator would keep the power running for the town while crews restored any problems that cropped up along the incoming powerline – a 240km line from Bairnsdale that often suffered from outages caused by storms, vegetation or wildlife.
Already, within the two weeks since the hybrid system was completed, it has been called on twice, AusNet said, successfully keeping the power on for the Mallacoota community. All told, the system is expected to improve the town’s power reliability by up to 90%.
“Improving energy resilience for the communities we serve, while keeping costs down for Victorians is critical in delivering the best experience for our customers,” said Derek Jayasuriya, principal engineer at AusNet Services.
“This innovative solution strikes the right balance, and we are very pleased to be here in Mallacoota today with the community who will be among the first to benefit from this new technology.”
For the community, it has been a long time coming. AusNet first proposed the Mallacoota battery back in 2018 and had planned to have it installed and operational in September 2019, “well before the [2019/2020] summer season.” This was not to be, however, with delays no doubt blown out by the Black Summer fires followed closely by the Covid-19 pandemic.
AusNet said this week that it had contributed $7.5 million for the Mallacoota project, which formed part of the Victorian government’s 2021/22 budget spend on enhancing the state’s energy security and lowering powerline-related bushfire risk.
The budget allocation $62.9 million to maintain essential energy functions while ensuring that retailers respect the rights of vulnerable customers through the Energy Fairness Plan.
A further $24.5 million was allocated to help regional economies in East Gippsland and North East Victoria recover from the pandemic and bushfires.
Network-connected community batteries are becoming regular features in surburbs and towns around Australia, as utilities begin to realise the benefits of shared storage to soak up excess rooftop solar and help stabilise ageing and increasingly crowded grids.
Western Australia, in particular, has led the way on shared storage, with the recent announcement of its third and biggest-yet community battery trial offering up to 600 solar households access to shared or “virtual” energy storage while at the same time boosting the efficiency and stability of the state’s South West grid, or SWIS.
The new 18-month trial expands on the highly successful first and second rounds of the state’s PowerBank scheme, in which government-owned utilities Synergy and Western Power installed half-a-dozen Tesla batteries across a range of communities, including Meadow Springs, Kalgoorlie, and Busselton.
(As One Step noted last year, Western Power had actually installed a total 13 utility-grade community batteries on its network ahead of PowerBank 3, but only six of those were trialing the PowerBank community storage product with Western Power and Synergy.)
Mallacoota, meanwhile, has also been the recipient of a free solar and battery system for its SES headquarters in March of 2020, donated by SunPower Corporation (solar panels), Fronius (inverter), Selectronic (Solar/battery controller) and GenZ (12kWh of lithium battery storage) and installed at no cost by RACV Solar.
The project installed a 6kW rooftop solar system and 12kWh of battery storage – worth more than $25,000 in total – to ensure the SES could access backup power, and provide a community meeting point, in any future emergencies.