Cheap community batteries bring power to the people

Article published 13 July 2023

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Cheap community batteries bring power to the people

The Aussie sun burns bright enough to supply power to the whole country and lower energy bills dramatically. How? Here's part of the answer.

IF you have received an energy bill recently, you’ll be most likely be appalled at its size. You might also be asking yourself why in a country where the sun shines almost every day, solar technology isn’t used to keep the price of electricity down.

Australia didn’t plan the energy transition terribly well, say Tony Ferguson and Robert Barr in a recent article in the Australian Financial review.

To be clear, Messrs Ferguson and Barr are no climate change activists. Tony Ferguson is a former investment banker and a Director and shareholder of EcoJoule Energy, an Australian developer and manufacturer of community batteries.

Robert Barr has over 40 years’ experience in the field of electricity distribution and is a fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia and a member of the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia.

These men are hard-headed professionals, but they’re on the side of households, like yours perhaps, which installed solar panels.

What’s wrong with rooftop solar panels?

Solar panels help reduce your energy bill, of course, but not at night when you need electricity from them most. The so-called feed-in tariff, the money power companies pay you for electricity generated by your solar panels, has been screwed down, and there’s even talk of imposing a levy on households who have the temerity to feed their excess electricity into the grid.

Ferguson and Barr say that the early withdrawal of coal-fired electricity generating capacity forced a reliance on expensive gas. This has led to rising electricity prices and blackout warnings. It has led to the ridiculously high bills you are, or will soon be, receiving.

But, they say, rooftop solar, installed on one-third of homes, currently has a capacity of over 20 gigawatts, with 3 gigawatts added each year. Rooftop solar generates enough electricity to meet 57 per cent of the total household energy use.

However, much of this is wasted or sold for very little. The electricity distribution system is simply not designed to store this clean energy.

You could install a battery system to capture and store all your solar energy, but that would set you back around $19,000 for a good one with a warranty of 10 years. This means a $1,900 annual depreciation charge. Not really affordable.

Enter community batteries

The answer, say Ferguson and Barr, are a battery on the other (that is, not your side) of the metre. They call it a community battery, which have major advantages over home batteries. As the descriptor suggests, a community battery is a shared battery to which homes nearby are connected. They store all the excess, rooftop, daytime-generated electricity for use once the sun sets.

No more laughable feed-in tariffs and much lower energy bills! You and your neighbours get to use the stored power generated by you and your neighbours.

Community batteries can be funded and operated by a battery operator or a community cooperative.

Finally, Ferguson and Barr say, community batteries are being designed and manufactured in Australia. In fact, Ferguson is Director of one such manufacturer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t got a point when he says that domestically manufactured community batteries can number into the many thousands, where currently all major brands of home batteries are imported.

Australia’s governments are backing community batteries. The federal government’s 2022 election platform included a program to fund 400 community batteries across Australia, with most to be co-ordinated by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). In 2022, Queensland announced its Energy & Jobs Plan which includes $500m for battery storage by 2026.

Community batteries sound like a good idea.


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