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Community Scale Batteries – should your community have one?

By 07/03/2023December 7th, 2023No Comments
Community-scale battery opportunities

Community batteries have been getting a lot of attention! With new funding opportunities kicking off this year, now’s a great time to look at some of the resources addressing this emerging technology.

What is a community-scale battery?

  • Community-scale batteries are any battery on the low voltage or distribution network that service a regional area.
  • Community batteries are more specific, these batteries are deployed by or for a community, and will directly benefit them.
  • just remember … if it’s not installed with and for community, its not a community battery!

Why would your community want one?
Early research has suggested that community-scale batteries have potential to:

  • Address grid reliability issues
  • Improve energy security
  • Enable more solar
  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions
  • Help households save on bills
Sounds great! What funding is available?
There are currently multiple funding sources for these projects, the Federal Governments Community Batteries for Household Solar and Victorian Governments Neighbourhood Battery Initiative Round 3.Federal Government – Community Batteries for Household Solar

The Federal Government promised $200m grant funding for its “Community Batteries for Household Solar” program. This program has $171m allocated to it for 342 batteries and will be managed by ARENA with guidelines due out shortly. The location of an additional 58 batteries were already announced during Labor’s election campaign and grant applications for these closed on 24th February.

Victorian State Government – Neighbourhood Battery Initiative
The Victorian State Government has launched Round 3 of their Neighbourhood Battery Initiative, making $2.3 million available in grants for the development of business cases and implementation of neighbourhood batteries. Funding of up to $200,000 is available for business cases in Stream 1 of the program, and $750,000 is available for implementation funding in Stream 2. This program is now open and will close on April 21. You can learn more here.

I’m interested in applying. What resources should I review first?
If your community group is interested in delivering a community-scale battery. We highly recommend reviewing some of the resources below.ANU: Battery Storage Grid Integration Program
The ANU Battery Storage Grid Integration Program was established in 2018 to look at batteries and how they could support decarbonisation efforts. They’ve tackled this challenge by producing several studies looking at them from social, technical and economic perspectives. They worked with the State Government of Victoria to release a knowledge hub bringing together these learnings in an easy format for interested community members.

You can check out the knowledge hub here.

Hepburn Energy: Community-scale Batteries Booklet
Our C4CE member, Hepburn Energy, produced a booklet looking at potential community-scale batteries in Central Victoria.

This booklet highlighted some cautions around the main model being proposed (batteries that are located on the street-level at a transformer) finding that they were prohibitively expensive. Even the best projects would require upwards of 70% grant funding to make senses. And even then, many projects would be unable to cover their running costs, leaving community members to foot the bill. But they did find promising alternative models, including:

  1. Behind-the-meter batteries located at community or industrial facilities
  2. Back-up power systems for important community services or to support people in emergencies such as fire, flood or storm events
  3. Batteries co-located at a community generator like the proposed battery at Hepburn Energy

Hepburn Energy also produced an animation which summarises what they found in this booklet. You can download the booklet here and watch their animation here.

Options for community involvement in community batteries
C4CE worked with the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Business Clinic to deliver research on the regulation and feasibility of community-owned batteries. This research found that while it’s technically possible for communities to own these batteries, there are issues including:

  1. Differences in levels of participation across the states
  2. Energy market regulation and legislation create costs that communities might not be able to cover
  3. Communities would need to partner with distributors and retailers to deliver energy services and access income streams from these services
  4. Even with these income streams, batteries at this scale may not be financially viable

For a more detailed summary of these findings you can look at the extract here or the full publication.

Why you might want to apply
Community-scale storage can play a role in our energy future, supporting local rooftop solar and community energy projects. Participating in these State and Federal programs could be an opportunity for your community energy group to learn more about a specific project and to unlock models that better serve the community.What should you do to get started?

  1. Review the resources above: Have a look at the knowledge hub, Hepburn Energy booklet and the C4CE research and ask if a battery is an appropriate solution for the problem you wish to address.
  2. Grant guidelines: Look up the grant guidelines for either the Federal or (if eligible) State programs and check if your project is appropriate.
  3. Find the action: 58 suburbs across Australia have already applied for funding. Ask to be directed to others inquiring about local batteries and considering applications. Start with your network provider, local council and local MP. Remember that existing applications must deliver community benefits and providing them with a community energy perspective will help you learn for later projects.
  4. Gather data: Gather local knowledge about possible locations, community assets, community groups, household types and solar penetration.
  5. Network data: Find out what your network provider (DNSP) knows about its electricity network in the area and its preferred locations.
  6. Build relationships: as a final step, build your relationships with your local council for planning permission and your network provider (DNSP) for connection approval. Both have formal processes for these approvals but both are also learning. Finding the champions within each of these institutions will be beneficial both now and for any future battery projects you might consider.

We understand a large number of C4CE members are involved in battery projects. Feel free to contact Heather and she’ll try and connect you to the latest work in your region.