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Australian ARENA gives out funding for residential on-grid storage system trial

The total cost of the trial has been announced as AUS$930,000, scheduled for completion in July next year. Image: wikimedia User: Marcin n.
The Australian government’s renewable energy division will trial the capabilities of on-grid energy storage to maximise the value of rooftop solar, announcing yesterday that it will provide funding for a trial by energy storage specialist Reposit Power.

The Australian Renewable Energy Association (ARENA) has pledged AUS$445,000 (US$365,000) to the project, which is a trial of trading and storing energy on the grid aimed primarily at enhancing rooftop PV value. The total cost of the trial has been announced as AUS$930,000, scheduled for completion in July next year.

GridCredits, a system developed by Reposit Power, allows consumers to access their rooftop generated electricity at night and during peak times, thus reducing the demand placed on the grid. Additionally, as the use of the word “trading” implies, it adds a commercial element to the use of energy – allowing energy to be sold back into the market from batteries.

As with trials of energy storage elsewhere in the world, another key use of the trial will be to assess the efficacy of batteries to integrate renewables onto the electricity network, smoothing variable output and allowing network operators to use stored electricity to meet demand at peak times.

The trial is therefore of particular note as it not only combines taking into account consumer-facing ideas such as improving the flexibility and value of using installed PV to the homeowner with the possible benefit to the grid and networks that storage can confer, but also adds the economic aspect of reselling the electricity generated.

The ARENA trial will take place at residences in the Australian Capital Territory, the south-eastern region which contains the nation’s capital, Canberra. According to ARENA’s chief executive officer Ivor Frischknecht, Reposit Energy has already opened discussions with the Australian Energy Market Operator over how to install and sell stored PV electricity to its National Electricity Market. ARENA in November also pledged a similar amount of funding to a larger-scale battery system trial in South Australia.

SunPower are among the international companies to have already earmarked Australia for opportunities in combining solar with storage at the residential level. Image: SunPower.
Commenting on the trial, Frischknecht said Reposit Power’s discussions on how to join and sell into the electricity networks and the company’s other steps to research the electricity market and commercialise its technologies “will give the technology the best chance of becoming available to Australian consumers and increasing the potential of solar PV to contribute to Australia’s electricity supply".

It is of course not yet clear how the resale of PV electricity will be administered, but various companies, including US-headquartered SunPower, which has grown an increasing presence in Australia of late, have discussed the potential for aggregating sales of electricity from a network of connected rooftop PV plants. In the case of SunPower, this has been mentioned particularly with regards to the Australian market. SunPower chief executive officer Tom Werner told PV Tech Storage in an interview earlier this year that Australia's market for storage could lead the rest of the world.

"You have great sunshine and you have an abundance of natural gas that could be shipped to the market in the Far East, at really good pricing, north of US$10 and that pricing equates to a high electricity price, so with good sunshine and a high cost of electricity you have a great value proposition. When you add storage to that you solve the generation of solar during sunlight hours," he said.

"So just as the policy environment is moving to an unfavourable position in Australia, the economics are getting favourable to the point where I think there’s still a value proposition in Australia that’s extremely interesting and in fact will be a pilot for the rest of the world."

In certain areas of Australia where communities and businesses such as mining operations are off-grid, energy storage already makes economic sense, according to the country’s Clean Energy Council. Diesel replacement at large-scale telecommunications infrastructure sites and mines is already underway. However according to the council, on-grid storage will prove genuinely transformative across the country:

“It is this emergence of low-cost, on-grid storage technologies that will genuinely transform our electricity market – and it is vital that governments and the community start planning for it now.”

The development of storage in Australia comes in the face of heavy cuts to support for renewable energy policy from the Tony Abbot-led government, which are taking place despite a recent poll from the WWF showing 89% of 5,000 Australian residents across the country to respond to the survey strongly objecting to the cuts.

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