Community Batteries: An Inside Look into Battery Trials - Solar Citizens

Community Batteries: An Inside Look into Battery Trials

For the last few years I have been a member of the Ausgrid NIAC – the Network Innovation Advisory Committee – on behalf of Solar Citizens. This involves attending a couple of meetings a year, by use of Microsoft Teams (an alternative to zoom) for the last few years. The meetings are used by Ausgrid to describe the innovations they are investigating, and to seek feedback from the committee.

The Beacon Hill community battery. Note transformer in the background.

The other members represent a variety of “stakeholders” representing electricity consumers, including the PIAC (Public Interest Advocacy Centre), CEC (Clean Energy Council), TCA (The Customer Advocate), EUAA (Energy Users Association Australia), and with academic representation from UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications. 

Much of what is discussed would be of little interest to a solar citizen, but of late the trialling of community batteries by Ausgrid have been front and centre. The level of detailed technical and financial examination of the installation of 3 trial batteries financed by Ausgrid has been very reassuring. The Federal Government has recently opened a funding round to partly finance up to 400 community batteries and Ausgrid has applied for $3m to install 6 trial batteries (2 batteries from 3 makers) in their service area.

Based on the experience of the first 3 community batteries (Beacon Hill, Bankstown, Cameron Park) in the Ausgrid financed trial, the following criteria is used to assess potential battery locations in suburbs nominated by the federal government. At this stage these include:

  • Safety and clearance: batteries must be accessible and have a certain clearance zone around the immediate vicinity of the battery. The battery should also be as close as possible to the local transformer that it is to be connected to.
    • Road traffic: where possible, it is preferable to locate the battery in low-traffic zones or install barriers to minimise risks of vehicle collisions. The Beacon Hill battery is surrounded by heavy sandstone “logs” to protect it from out of control vehicles. The battery must not obscure visibility from passing traffic.
  • Noise: the ambient battery noise levels are below the thresholds set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and locate the battery as far from nearby houses as possible. All battery brands were considered to be too noisy, and the 3 makes chosen for the trial have been modified by the maker to reduce the hum they produce.
  • Environmental and heritage considerations: minimise vegetation clearance, consider water ingress risks, and assess sites for potential cultural or heritage significance. 
  • Network capacity: where possible, minimal upgrades to the network to support the battery are preferred. The intent is to install batteries to mitigate the need for traditional network augmentation. 
  • Local solar PV availability: batteries are key to maximising renewable energy utilisation, so areas served by a local transformer where there is currently a high number of solar households or potential for solar growth are preferred.
  • Community response: local residents will be notified about the proposal for a community battery and their feedback will influence the design. 

Finally, if the above considerations can be satisfied and estimated cost is within the budget, locations are selected where batteries could provide maximum network support and benefits, such as avoiding or delaying future network upgrades. So far the batteries are invariably located in public parks.

At the last NIAC meeting, the presentations included the advice that despite all the careful calculations of possible benefits, the savings available in the 6 new locations were small, and in the short term is not forecasted to provide savings sufficient to justify the cost. However, with the support of the NIAC, Ausgrid will use the $3m offered by the Federal Government to install 6 more similar sized batteries in suburbs specified by the government (Bondi, Cabarita, Cammeray, Narara, Warriewood, North Epping (where I live) in the expectation of gaining and sharing experience that will help make future community batteries more financially viable.

—Peter Youll is a retired engineer and IT-specialist, long-time Solar Citizens volunteer, North Sydney resident, and dedicated clean energy advocate.

Community batteries and grid-scale storage play an important role in reducing network costs, by soaking up and storing surplus cheap solar during the day and feeding it back into the grid when needed – helping to lower power bills for all energy users. Solar Citizens is encouraged to see Federal Government investment in grid-scale storage and progress in the trials to best utilise community batteries to best meet the needs of both the grid and the community, 

You can also read more about community batteries on Ausgrid's FAQ page.