Micro-grids power ahead amid energy drama
Eight communities selected to trial micro-grids could be immune to the threat of electricity blackouts and bill shock.
But keeping the power on after devastating bushfires has been a driving motivation for Bjorn Sturmberg, technical lead on the solar and battery project.
Micro-grids, using a mix of renewables and energy storage, are small networks that can be independent from the main grid. They are becoming an increasingly vital option for regional and remote communities.
Firestorms bring outages that switch off access to money, shut down petrol and diesel bowsers, cut off vital health support, and eliminate air-conditioning and refrigeration for homes and businesses.
The Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program at the Australian National University has selected eight communities on the south coast of NSW for the federally funded pilot program.
Bodalla, Broulee, Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba (working together), Congo, Mystery Bay, Nelligen, South Durras, and Tuross Head will plug in and provide tips for regional communities across Australia.
"We hope this approach inspires other regional projects, policy makers, and funders," Dr Sturmberg said.
The selected sites are all vulnerable with a history of outages, high residential occupancy rates rather than empty holiday homes, lots of elderly, people with disability, and plenty of rooftop solar already installed that can connect to a community battery.
"As new technologies are considered, we need to make sure we do solve the problems the technology is supposed to address, taking into account local priorities," social scientist Hedda Ransan-Cooper said.
"So, if the overall aim is for grid-tied micro-grids to boost regional resilience, then we really need to take into account the differences between communities, in terms of who lives in them and what infrastructure is already there."
As well as the ANU, the project partners include Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance which initiated the project, NSW network firm Essential Energy, and Canberra-based electricity software company Zepben.
Alliance president Kathryn Maxwell said decentralising energy systems makes sense to keep energy affordable.
The team considered issues like "consultation fatigue" after extensive investigations into the Black Summer fires, cultural and ethnic diversity, and the layout of the town and existing electricity network.
Various micro-grid designs, ranging from backup power for community shelters and essential services through to large systems servicing the whole of community, will be trialled.
"Now that this project has a focus on these areas of the Eurobodalla, we can begin to understand what that energy system might look like from the communities’ point of view," Ms Maxwell said.
"Producing and consuming electricity locally will also have significant economic benefits in terms of employment and keeping the money local."
The selected sites include small communities of less than 100 people, medium townships of around 300, and larger towns of 2000.
Network firm Essential Energy said the announcement of the eight sites was an important milestone in understanding how the technology can best support the different communities.
"Micro-grids will undoubtedly form a part of our broader future network to help local communities work together to access more resilient, cleaner and cheaper energy," chief operating officer Luke Jenner said.