A first-of-its-kind distributed energy trial with the “lofty” goal of developing an electricity marketplace that factors in both the financial and environmental benefits of consumer-owned assets like rooftop solar and battery storage is preparing to roll out in north-eastern Victoria.
The Energy Demand and Generation Exchange (EDGE) Project was officially launched on Wednesday by distribution network company AusNet Services and its community renewables focused offshoot Mondo, with the backing of the Australian Energy Market Operator and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The project’s less lofty and certainly not unique objective is to combine rooftop solar systems (in this case in the Hume region of Victoria) virtually, to compete with the output of a traditional power station – leading to better financial returns for homes and businesses and more efficient use of locally generated renewables.
But it’s not a virtual power plant, RenewEconomy is told, and the scope of this EDGE project, combined with the new technology being used and the breadth of different industry representatives taking part does seem to amount to a first of sorts.
Starting with 100 participants but with plans to incorporate up to 1,000, the three-year trial will kick off in 2021 and will ultimately include a minimum of 10MW of distributed energy resources (DER) across a mix of residential and commercial and industrial customers.
The technology underpinning the trial will be Mondo’s Ubi Energy Management Platform, a hardware and software solution that provides both localised energy monitoring and management as well as centralised coordination of widespread DER assets like rooftop solar.
The DER being included in the trial could conceivably range from rooftop solar, to solar and battery storage, to electric vehicles and chargers and smart energy management systems, but initially the goal is to recruit customers either with a minimum of rooftop solar, or even those merely considering installing solar and battery storage.
The EDGE project will combine Mondo’s technology with existing market mechanisms to create a smart energy grid where small-scale energy generators and consumers are in constant real-time communication, the end result being the delivery of wholesale and local network support services at the grid edge.
One of the key challenges of the trial, and indeed of any project that seeks to tap in to behind-the-meter consumer assets, is to win over customers who have invested their own money in technology designed to “stick it to the man” and give them greater control of their power supply.
How the EDGE project will do this remains to be nutted out, but a common selling point in these sorts of trials has been the promise of more control – or “even more choice” as AusNet puts it – over the financial return on investment from DER like rooftop solar and battery storage.
This offer of access to revenue streams traditionally restricted to wholesale electricity market participants is becoming an increasingly attractive proposition as the amount people are paid for their solar exports to the grid continues to fall; even if it comes at the perceived cost of less control over an individual system.
At this stage, Mondo says it is focusing on seeking expressions of interest from households and businesses in the designated grid area, which happens to take in a pretty energy savvy crowd, including the town of Yackandandah, which is well past the halfway mark in a community-led shift to 100 per cent renewables.
Indeed, AusNet and Mondo have previously won a Clean Energy Council innovation award for their work in Yackandandah, and an earlier Victoria government grant contributed $104,000 from the Renewable Communities Program to match 84,000 raised locally.
And Victoria’s Hume region has also been blessed with a series of highly motivated renewables-friendly MPs, including the current Independent member for Indi, Helen Haines, who recently launched a $483 million Local Power Plan to help boost regional economies.
“It’s going to be really exciting to see homes and businesses connected virtually through Ubi and operating as a single energy nervous system,” said Jodie Hallam, Mondo’s general manager of energy services.
“This is the leap we need to make to ensure energy users have more choice in the way they engage with the energy network, whilst still maintaining a robust, reliable, affordable power grid for all.”
For AEMO, the key goal is to design and test a two-way energy system and “sophisticated market” for consumers to participate in the NEM.
“Our trial with AusNet Services and Mondo, and financial support from ARENA, will facilitate the trading of aggregated electricity services from energy devices in peoples’ homes and businesses in north-east Victoria,” said the market operator’s executive general manager of emerging markets and services, Violette Mouchaileh on Wednesday.
“The trial forms part of AEMO’s DER Program to enable a smooth transition from a one-way energy supply chain, to a world-leading system that maximises the value of DER for all consumers through effectively integrating DER into Australia’s power systems and electricity markets.”
ARENA, which is pitching in $12.9 million to the $28 million project, hopes the trial will provide a blueprint for integrating DER into the grid.
“As the uptake of rooftop solar, home batteries, home energy management systems, electric vehicles and smart appliances is expected to grow, it is clear that these technologies are going to transform our electricity system. While these devices and technologies can make our grid more reliable, affordable and lower emission, rapid uptake is already impacting how the grid is managed and highlighting the limitations of our existing market frameworks,” said ARENA CEO Darren Miller.
“This trial will help to develop trading mechanisms to maximise the economic benefits to customers and the system and minimise the costs of supply to all energy customers. We look forward to developing a marketplace for the services these technologies can provide, and paving the way for widespread adoption across Australia.”
To register interest in participating in the trial, see here https://mondo.com.au/edge