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How batteries are powering up our switch to solar
by Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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United Energy has installed two batteries in Black Rock and Highett in an Australian-first trial of ways to manage electricity exports from rooftop solar and other private generators. Photo courtesy of United Energy.

An ALP plan to invest in community batteries and a groundbreaking trial in two bayside suburbs could overcome two of the major stumbling blocks of solar power generation: how does the existing electricity network handle the increase in solar, and what happens when the sun doesn’t shine.

According to the Federal Government, Australia has the highest uptake of solar in the world – more than 21 per cent of homes have rooftop PV panels. The Australian Energy Council estimates 2.66 million Australian homes and businesses had a rooftop solar system at the end of last year. This uptake rate is mirrored in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula, where 18.2 per cent and 18.1 per cent of dwellings respectively – 11,657 and 17,422 properties – have solar panels installed, according to the Australian PV Institute.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Australians had been “voting with their feet” on rooftop solar, but the prohibitive cost of batteries meant only one in 60 households have battery storage and so must still rely on the grid at night. To that end, Labor’s Power To The People initiative would see a federal Labor government spend $200 million installing community batteries across the country to store electricity generated by rooftop solar. This would allow 100,000 households, including those without solar panels, to draw power from the batteries at night. “The technology of the future to cut household bills and emissions is already here,” Mr Albanese said. “We just need the policy settings to unleash it.”

In February last year, United Energy installed two 2m x 1m pole-mounted batteries in Black Rock and Highett and is assessing their performance to see if the trial – the first of its kind in Australia – might be expanded in the future. “We’re seeing these batteries help take pressure off the network in peak solar times and peak demand times, which is helping about 150 customers in these areas,” said United Energy’s head of network strategy, Greg Hannan. “Sharing the battery infrastructure allows all our customers to benefit from greater reliability and enables us to defer higher-cost network upgrades. It is an important step forward in setting up the kind of flexible network we need to manage electricity exports from rooftop solar and other private generators for the benefit of all of our customers.”

Frankston City Mayor Kris Bolam said his council was keeping a keen eye on the trial. “A key finding of a recent Australian National University report indicated that third-party-owned community battery models are likely to be financially viable in the future,” Cr Bolam said. “Under this model, the owner/operator could be a local council, community group or not-for-profit organisation, for example. We will continue to stay abreast of the technology to understand how it can be beneficial to the Frankston City community, particularly in responding to the climate emergency and supporting the transition to cleaner renewable energy.”

A key element of Mornington Peninsula Shire Council’s climate emergency plan is support for a significant increase in the uptake of local renewable energy generation. The plan has set targets of generating 200 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030 – enough to power about 50,000 homes on the Peninsula – and having solar panels installed on half of all buildings on the Peninsula by that time. By 2023, the council will source all its electricity from renewable generation and has already installed more than 1.2MW of solar PV capacity on its own buildings.

Climate change, energy and water manager Melissa Burrage said: “We recognise that to achieve these targets, the electricity grid may need to be supported by battery storage – whether it be community or large-scale batteries or privately-owned batteries – to avoid the need for costly electricity grid upgrades to deal with issues around peak demand, voltage and capacity issues created by concentrations of rooftop solar. The most appropriate approach for the responsibility of the batteries will be determined as the local requirements are determined and options are designed. We are in discussion with the distribution network provider, United Energy, to determine the best approach for specific regions of the Peninsula and the electricity grid.”

Almost a fifth of Frankston and Mornington Peninsula homes have solar panels.

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