The newly partially privatised NSW network owner Endeavour Energy has flagged a “360 degree” turn in network control and ownership as the energy industry returns to its roots and focuses on localised, renewable energy-based micro-grids.
In announcing a tender for a trial “micro-grid”, Endeavour says new technology means the industry is about to take a “360 degree turn and bring the energy industry back to the days where councils owned and operated” their own networks.
“The modern-day twist is that the councils can be many different entities, such as communities, corporations, developers, councils and network providers,” it says.
“The other major change is the method of generation changing from power stations to renewables such as (solar) PV and wind with the integration of energy storage.”
Endeavour, which supplies electricity to 2.4 million people in Sydney’s Greater West, the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands, the Illawarra and the South Coast, is taking its first step into micro-grids with a trial to develop cost-effective alternatives to the current model.
“Endeavour Energy has been in discussion with various developers within the Endeavour Energy distribution area, who are prepared to work with stakeholders to a successful trial,” it says.
The exact location of the trial is not yet known, but it will be a new development. It will likely include about 200 homes, all of them to be fitted with between 3kW and 5kW of rooftop solar PV (half facing north and half facing west) and a centralised battery storage unit. It did not specify the size for the storage.
It follows another Endeavour tender earlier this year for a large-scale battery storage array to reduce network costs for a new housing development west of Illawarra.
The 1MWh battery system is set to be installed at the proposed West Dapto Zone Substation, with the network operator believing it could reduce network capital costs by $1 million a year.
Endeavour is just the latest to consider micro-grids as an alternative to the long-established model of centralised generation and elongated networks, particularly as the cost of renewables and storage fall below the cost of network supply, and because they actually increase security, particularly in regards to storms and bushfires.
Western Power has talked of a new “modular” network design (see image right) that would create isolated micro-grids and other micro-grids with a “thin wire” connection to a main grid.
Western Power recognises that renewable-based micro-grids will provide cheaper, cleaner and more secure electricity supply, a view shared by Ergon Energy in Queensland, and by Horizon Energy in regional WA, which is looking at replacing fossil fuels with local renewable and storage.
Other network operators in South Australia, Victoria and NSW are also looking at micro-grid opportunity and “embedded networks”, where a local supply of solar and storage meets the needs of consumers in aged care communities, gated communities and shopping centres and the like..
Once the trial for the new development is complete, Endeavour is looking at how it might be applied in existing suburbs and communities – hence the prospect of returning ownership of networks to councils, communities or businesses.
“The projected growth within the embedded networks extends beyond micro-grids and can expand into brownfield areas and existing apartment blocks,” Endeavour says, noting that it would reduce the requirement for new zone substations and other network infrastructure.
The Endeavour tender closes on June 20.