The West Australia Labor government has unveiled a new energy roadmap that puts community battery storage at the top of its proposals to embrace a wholesale switch to distributed energy sources such as rooftop solar panels, household and community batteries, electric vehicles and microgrids.
The Distributed Energy Roadmap – nearly a year in the making – was unveiled on the weekend by state energy minister Bill Johnston, and it forms a key part of its Energy Transformation Taskforce, charged with dealing with the switch from coal and then other fossil fuels, to a grid dominated by renewables and storage.
W.A., thanks largely to the disinterest of the previous conservative government, has trailed the rest of the country in the installation of large-scale wind and solar – although it is beginning to catch up, both on its main grid and through miners in off-grid and in private networks.
But the state has been among the leaders in the uptake of rooftop solar, which has been installed by one in three households, meaning the output of rooftop solar is three times as much at certain times than that of the biggest coal generator, and accounts for up to 45 per cent of demand.
Johnston notes that the uptake of rooftop solar is expected to lift to one in two households, and at least that for business.
That has particular implications for Western Australia because it is an isolated network, and the question has been how to manage a distributed and largely uncontrolled and nearly invisible source that will likely present a threat to grid stability without a proper integration plan, as the Australian Energy Market Operator has highlighted. See our story: Rooftop solar throws massive curve ball to world’s most isolated grid.
“A major transformation of Western Australia’s electricity sector is underway,” Stephen Edwell, who chairs the Energy Transformation Taskforce, said in a statement.
“Rooftop solar is a great source of power, but changes are needed to ensure that it helps, rather than hinders the operation of our energy supply system.
“Households and businesses can help make the most of our abundant solar generation by moving some of their electricity use from the evening to the middle of the day.”
- The focus of this report is a suite of 36 different actions that cover technology integration, removing barriers to DER participation (including battery storage),piloting alternative electricity tariffs, and relating customer protection and engagement. Edwell says it is not a wish list, as each recommended action is considered essential.
The one that has caught most attention from clean energy advocates is the community battery proposal, which is considered the most urgent. It proposes new community batteries be installed in ten towns and communities – Canning Vale, Dunsborough, Ellenbrook, Kalgoorlie, Leda, Parmelia, Port Kennedy, Singleton, Two Rocks, and Wanneroo – by the end of the year.
The community batteries are dubbed “Powerbanks” and will likely operate in similar fashion to that trialled at Meadow Springs over the past year and a half, and more recently at Ellenbrook in Perth’s north and Falcon near the city of Mandurah.
Under those schemes, solar households could choose to access either 6kWh or 8kWh of virtual storage, at a cost of $1.60 or $1.90 per day respectively, to store the excess power from their solar PV systems.
This allows those homes to draw electricity back from the PowerBank during the afternoon and evening peak – when their solar systems stop generating – without having stump up thousands of dollars for their own behind-the-meter battery storage system.
This was welcomed by the Clean Energy Council, which described the initiatives as “nation leading” and said community storage such as Powerbanks can be used to manage the grid and reduce grid costs.
“Electricity bills for all customers are reduced, even those who don’t own solar. It even works for people who can’t install solar and batteries, like renters in apartments,” said Darren Gladman, the CEC’s director of distributed energy.
“This is the sort of energy policy all Australian energy customers need. Australian love solar and in coming years we expect rooftop solar to supply more than half of our electricity needs.
“The WA plan shows how we can share solar so that everyone benefits from the clean energy revolution. When every suburb has its own community Powerbank, our electricity system will be fairer, cleaner, cheaper, more reliable and more neighbourly. All governments should follow WA’s lead by embracing the opportunities of solar and batteries.”
“The WA plan shows how we can share solar so that everyone benefits from the clean energy revolution”, said Gladman. “When every suburb has its own community Powerbank, our electricity system will be fairer, cleaner, cheaper, more reliable and more neighbourly.”
Ian Porter, the chair of the Perth-based community thinktank Sustainable Energy Now (SEN), said the roadmap – which it described as a “comprehensive and complete guideline – was a significant development. But the key would be in the way that tariff reforms were managed.
“The transition of WA’s main power grid, the SWIS, from a centrally controlled and powered system to one with distributed energy resources is a massive undertaking and needs to be well-planned, particularly the proposed steps towards tariff reform,” he said in a statement.
“Tariff reform is always difficult and those opposed to change are likely to focus on those who may be most impacted. But without tariff reform to drive behavioural change, the system will not operate fairly, efficiently nor sustainably.”
Other short term initiatives to follow the Powerbank deployment include an upgrade of inverter settings and functionality, to make sure they can operate securely during disturbances, pilots schemes for new tariff arrangements, and increased “visibility” over distributed resources. And the taskforce will begin planning on electric vehicles and their integration into the grid in June.
There is some urgency to this work, with rooftop solar continuing to be added by around 2,000 households a month, and forecasts that within two years minimum demand levels will be lowered by the uptake of rooftop solar (and self consumption) to levels that will be difficult to manage. (See graph above).
The report notes that without urgent measures, and the community batteries, either the amount of rooftop solar would have to be curtailed, or Western Power would have to invest significant amounts in grid upgrades.
This work on distributed energy is part of three work streams looking at the renewable energy transition. The others focus on comprehensive long-term modelling of the power system to assist Government policy and sector wide investment decisions, and make major modifications to the design andoperation of the SWIS (the name of the local grid).
Edwell says W.A. has some of the world’s best wind and solar resources, and because they have “free fuel” and low operating costs, they will both reduce costs and deliver cleaner energy.
“It is a no-brainer that we should be seeking to optimise the level of renewable energy across our electricity systems,” he says.
Minister Johnston said: “The actions in the Roadmap will allow us to keep feeding more renewable energy into the grid for the benefit of all Western Australians. It is a robust plan for a brighter energy future.
“Building a responsive and resilient power system will allow us to successfully manage risks over time – COVID-19 is a timely reminder of the importance of this.”
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