With a jump in the number of people working from home since COVID-19 hit in March, more and more energy conscious Australians are installing rooftop solar. But what happens when many of these people go back to the office and aren’t at home to maximise its benefits by using energy during the day?

A trial taking place in the Melbourne suburb of Greenvale is exploring how a community battery can store excess solar energy generated during the day to be used during high usage times at night. The Creating Solar Friendly Neighbourhoods trial is an alliance between energy infrastructure company Jemena, AusNet Services, and University of NSW, Sydney. It is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program, and Hume City Council.

“Many homeowners install rooftop solar because they want to transition to renewable energy and reduce their reliance on the grid while saving money on their bills, but without the option of an affordable home battery, they will continue to look to the electricity grid to provide power when the sun isn’t shining,” said Jemena’s Executive General Manager for Electricity Distribution Shaun Reardon.

Since March, when many thousands of Victorians began working from home due to COVID-19, Jemena has seen an increase in the number of homes installing rooftop solar in its Electricity Network, which provides power to more than 360,000 customers across Melbourne’s North-West. This trend is consistent across Victoria. On 6 September a new benchmark was set for renewable energy generation across the state with 31 per cent of the state’s total energy needs being met by solar.

But as the popularity of rooftop solar sets new records, the more likely it becomes that these homeowners will face restrictions when they try to export excess solar back into the electricity grid.

“When a large number of households try to export solar back into the grid at the same time, like in the middle of a warm summer day, the network can only handle a certain amount of excess energy before many households face restrictions,” Mr Reardon said. 

“This means many homeowners aren’t earning as much money as they could from their feed-in tariff.”

This is where the community battery comes in.

A community battery stores excess solar energy generated during the day. That energy is then used at night to take the pressure off the electricity grid during peak times. The community battery being trialled in Greenvale is connected to a low voltage network supplying 110 customers. 

As excess energy generated by rooftop solar within the local area is stored in the community battery, it means that fewer households will face restrictions when feeding excess energy back into the grid. It also takes some pressure off the electricity grid during peak times which means it is less likely there will be unplanned power outages caused by extra demand on the grid.

With summer around the corner, the Creating Solar Friendly Neighbourhoods trial will see the full effect of the community battery trial.

“To operate at maximum capacity the battery needs to be storing high levels of excess energy which isn’t possible during the cooler months. In early 2021 we will see the battery begin to make a difference to the amount of energy the trial area relies on from the electricity grid,” Mr Reardon said.

With the increase in rooftop solar installations set to continue over the coming years, the need for community batteries and other technologies that allow more integration between solar and the electricity grid will be crucial.

“Currently around 13 per cent of Jemena’s electricity customers have rooftop solar, but estimates suggest that could be as high as 40 per cent within ten years,” Mr Reardon said.

“Our Creating Solar Friendly Neighbourhoods trial is also looking at other ways existing electricity infrastructure can better integrate with solar power and other new technologies. 

“The learnings will help Jemena to plan for future integration of intelligent technologies with the existing electricity grid, benefiting all customers in Jemena’s network in the future.”

The trial will run until February 2021.

For more information about the Creating Solar Friendly Neighbourhoods trial visit www.jemena.com.au/solarfriendly

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