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The future of energy is distributed and dispatched - and it looks completely different!

21/04/2020
Cassandra Sheppard

Australians are embracing a new way of doing things when it comes to energy, motivated by strengthening local communities, helping the environment and saving moneyIt’s a collaborative approach to energy that’s been happening at a community level for some time, but now the organisations that run the Australian energy market, like the Australian Energy Market Commission are working with all peak government and energy bodies, as well as industry and consumer groups, to support a new energy systems vision for the future. A future where people have control over how their solar panels, batteries, and other energy resources are used.

According to the 2020 Integrated System Plan developed by the Australian Energy Market Operator:  

“Australia's energy ecosystem is rapidly transforming towards a decentralised, scalable two-way energy system, driven by Australia's world-leading uptake of household and commercial solar generation and energy storage capabilities.”

The AEMO highlights anticipated innovations in Distributed Energy Resources (DER) as part of its 2020 ISP and indicates that Australia could reach 75 per cent renewable energy by 2040 – if not sooner. 

 

What does this all mean?

Don’t worry, it’s good news! It’s a new way of doing energy that generates, stores and shares energy between businesses and households without being tied to the static poles and wires that distribute coal-fired energy. 

“The future is not centralised energy. Its dispatched, decentralised in different ways, connecting all sorts of energy forms to run our grids and our cars.” Damon Gameau, 2040 Director. 

The energy comes from lots of renewable energy generation sources, like solar panels, wind farms, from roof top-sized to large-scale, plus other sources; and, it is coordinated through technologies that allow it to be shared and used (like peer-to-peer, or household-to-household trading) 

Damon Gameau, Director, 2040, Giles Parkinson, Editor, Renew Economy and Belinda Kinkead, LO3 Director Australia, talk new energy systems based on distributed energy. 

 

Internationally, in some less developed economies, communities are breaking away from centralised energy systems (that is systems reliant on burning coal and transmitting energy along long-distance power lines) by using new technologies that allow them to create their own mini-systems based on locally-distributed rooftop solar. Like the microgrid in Bangladesh discussed in the film 2040. Here’s another example, created in Brooklyn, New York, USA with partner LO3.


In the Australian context, regulatory barriers prevent a complete breakaway. Our system was built around the coal and gas industry, which has powered our homes for centuries. However, government policy, subsidies and partnerships are enabling new decentralised systems to be created

These partnerships involve an energy retailer, sometimes the state government, and companies that can provide the energy generation, sharing and storing technologies needed to support a decentralised, local energy system. The partnerships are making waves into breaking down the barriers that existed in the old system where energy flowed one way. 

New partnership projects are already demonstrating improved financial, environmental and social impacts of decentralised, local systems. And it’s envisaged that eventually we’ll be increasingly powered by lots and lots of little local systems that are coordinated together, like in virtual power plants and microgrids, where everyone plays a part, and your energy will be renewable and local.

“It’s called the democratisation of energy. New technologies are coming in that are cheaper, smarter, better, quicker. But breaking down the barriers in an incredibly complex industry is hard and you can’t do it without government leadership.” Giles Parkinson, Editor Renew Economy.

 

Change is coming fast

It’s no secret that Australia’s transmission infrastructure needs a pretty big overhaul. The energy grid, as we know it, was originally designed to deliver centralised electricity generation from coal-fired power stations, which may have been fine way-back-when. But now we know the real price of burning coal for energy – our climate. New technologies are coming in that are carbon emissions-free; and they’re proving to be cheaper, cleaner, smarter, and quicker too.

In fact, the Australian energy grid hit a significant milestone in late 2019 when for ten minutes, 50% of energy was produced and sourced from renewablesAnother recent report found:

"Rooftop solar systems and new large-scale farms regularly pushed renewable energy to beyond 30% of generation at midday during June (2019), one of the least sunny months."

There is a real momentum for change and it’s only going to keep building. The future of Australia’s energy supply is here, and it’s cleanlocalisedand renewable!

panel members for our changing energy systems event
L-R: Damon Gameau, Felicity Stening, Belinda Kinkead and Giles Parkinson - Content experts on distributed energy systems in international and Australian contexts

 

Why Australia’s energy infrastructure needs an overhaul

We need energy infrastructure that is agile, resilient and reliable, especially in the face of increasingly volatile weather. And we no longer need to rely on heavy-polluting, high-carbon emitting coal-fired power plants for our energy. In addition to being a cumbersome way to generate and transmit power, it’s expensive. In short, the current system we have just isn’t up to the job, whatever metric you use to measure it by. 

Here’s an overview of what some of the key problems can look like in practice:

  • Energy Networks Australia, the group which represents the poles and wires industry, has said power prices could increase due to constantly rising insurance costs as a result of the increased bushfire risk, and the damage to poles and wires from the recent fires. (Source: ABC News)
  • In December and January, tens of thousands of people lost power because bushfires damaged electricity infrastructure in several states, with some fire-affected towns such as Mallacoota in Victoria's east cut off. (Source: ABC News) 

 

Enter: South Australia and its amazing transformation

 

We know a shift to clean, localised power works. Allow us to present South Australia, home of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery that was built, installed and operational in under 100 daysYou may well remember the context in which it was built. South Australia was experiencing crippling energy problems and was heading into a future with little assurance of energy security. In fact, the state was in the middle of a state-wide blackout. There were also two very high-profile tech entrepreneurs involved in getting this battery delivered, which guaranteed the widespread coverage this battery and its success has had ever since.

The battery, alongside the state’s broader commitment to renewable energy, has well and truly proven itself. When severe storms hit South Australia on 31 January this year, high winds brought down one of the state’s biggest transmission lines. As a result, the South Australian grid separated from the rest of the Australian Energy Market and operated effectively as an ‘island’ for two weeks. This is a big deal, a world first, even.

South Australia continued to operate with an average of more than 50 per cent renewable energy for the two weeks it operated in this way, and it did so with a lower cost of power than coal-dominated NSW. The role played by South Australian wind farms and its three big batteries in keeping the lights on is a testament to the added grid security that comes with inverter-based technologies such as wind, solar and batteries, and all the coordinating software which supports them. This allows power generation to be reflexive and respond accordingly, which leads to increased energy security.

Since then the battery’s capacity has been increased with state government investment and the South Australian government has declared its plans to be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade. The South Australian government has proactively taken up distributed energy technologies to create a large virtual power plant pilot. 

“Rather than having a 100megawatt or 200megawatt coal-fired or other generators, you have lots and lots of little systems. So, distributed energy resources like solar panels on peoples’ rooves that are aggregated or coordinated as the virtual power plant to make up the 100megawatts or 200 megawatts.” Belinda Kinkead, Director Australia, LO3.

 

The role of community energy: Microgrids, Solar Gardens and Shared Community Batteries with Enova

New partnerships and technologies are combining to help protect the grid, save money, combat the climate crisis and build community. By working with an ethical energy retailer like Enova as well as technology partners, communities can become energy independent.

Enova offers a new framework for how energy can be done differently. By flipping the traditional retail model, Enova is doing this via innovative projects like Microgrids, Solar Gardens and its first Shared Community Battery pilot project - with the intention of strengthening communities and providing secure, affordable renewable energy to everyone.

If you’d like to be involved with an energy company on the right side of energy history, consider Enova. We also welcome your enquiries to be part of our first shared community battery or to let us know of your community’s plans for a microgrid or solar garden. Please do get in touch to switch, or enquire about projects.

 

16 responses

  1. I am interested in finding out more about the community battery project, as I am considering batteries for my house which has solar panels. Ian White

    1. Hi Ian, thanks for your comment. Great to hear you're interested in batteries for your home. there's more information about our community battery project here: https://enovaenergy.com.au/shared-community-battery/ . Please feel free to register if you're interested in participating. We'll be providing more information about this project and other battery-related news in the coming months.

  2. Congratulations to Enova! After so much obfuscation by the federal government, it is hard to believe that Australia's energy supply system may actually become state-of-the-art! It is unclear what prompted this quantum leap in thinking, other than the absurdity of persevering with a system based on last generation technologies.

    Margaret and I sincerely hope that we can participate appropriately in the initiatives being proposed by Enova. We live on a community-title estate - Timbarra at Dunbogan - and could distribute any relevant literature to other householders here if that was helpful.

    1. Dear John, thank you very much for your comments and support. We will be in touch privately regarding your offer of assistance. Kind regards 🙂

  3. We have 20 solar panels on our house at James Creek 2463. Installed early last year.

    Would be interest to explore storage options in our local area.

    1. Hi Tony, Thanks for your message. Fabulous work with your solar! We've got a community battery project coming online in the next 12 months and will be recruiting participants in a peer-to-peer storage and trading scheme soon. If you'd like to participate please register your interest here: https://enovaenergy.com.au/shared-community-battery/ . Also in the mean time we'll pass your details and info on to the relevant team members. Thank you!

  4. Enova wants to be a professional and clear communicator.
    Why use yellow words on white background, when we all know that yellow on white is hard to read?
    Yellow may be the corporate colour but it shouldn't be used to highlight critical detail.

    1. Hi Bill, Thank you for your feedback. This has been passed on to our content creation team. 🙂

  5. Hi, I love being an Enova customer.
    I find your newsletters useful and am adapting our energy use to times when our solar panels are covering our appliance's energy needs.
    I am interested in storing the extra energy we generate for use at night etc. Are batteries sufficiently developed to store and deliver energy for latter use at a reasonable price ?

    1. Hi Steven, thanks for your comment and for your support! It's great to hear that you're enjoying our content. We put a lot of effort into aiming to create useful material. Battery technology and affordability is rapidly developing, and this is something you're best researching independently. Mpre and more people are including battery storage in their energy systems at home, but we do know that affordability continues to be an issue for many. It is changing though. And with the onset of local and even street-based community battery systems and opportunities for peer-to-peer trading coming in the near future, the interest in batteries is likely to increase.

  6. I would love to be an Enova customer .I have been asking when? for five years and I now feel like a small boy waiting for Xmas. As a commercial 2nd tier electricity buyer at the time of privatisation I was asked to comment on the future of the energy market and the energy distribution system.To summarise my reply I saw price gouging profiteering and poor service as the future . I have not been surprised. Failure to update and maintain assets in Victoria has cost us dearly both in financial cost and lives with some of the most deadly fires in the state's history being blamed on poorly maintained distribution grids. With the likely increase in bushfires due to climate change the current distribution system like the aging power stations that supply it is the past . The future is exciting and I am excited and hope to be part of it

    1. Hi Eric, thank you for taking the time to comment. We'll be expanding to Victoria in the coming 12 - 24 months so we look forward to having you on board. There are some interesting community energy initiatives in Victoria and we are looking forward to being part of that landscape!

  7. I have been with enova for a while, I see little difference to other power companies. I think a more of a co~op model would be more functional and inclusive. It just seems like another power company that want its' consumers feel better about the prices charged. Bills should have a share value to members. It would good if you replied and were active on this blog. I don't need a scratching post. All this blog does is promote enova, not be part of the community.

    1. Hi Biff, thanks for your comment. The key difference with Enova are that we're wholly community-owned and we're a social enterprise. Enova was established for the purpose of generating community impact through community energy projects. 50 per cent of our profits will be reinvested back into community projects. We also ensure the circulation of solar energy as up to 60 per cent of our power comes form our own customers' roof top solar. We do operate as an ordinary electricity retailer in terms of our products to customers, because we have to in a heavily regulated industry. However our purpose and what we do with our profits is very different to others. We've already reinvested into communities through partnerships, community energy projects,and donations. And there is a lot more coming like microgrids, solar gardens, virtual power plans and community batteries. We don't invest in fossil fuels and we're 100% carbon offset. Just by choosing Enova you're making a difference. Thank you for your support.

  8. I like the concept, but a little disappointed with the immediate results. Had a 6Kw system installed connected with the grid which reduced my power bills (with Enova) by 30%. I was expecting more. I am told that other providers give better return, but I will probably stay with Enova because I want to see this 'proof of concept' realised. What I am really hanging out for is the development of the battery technology. The Tesla batteries are great, but way beyond the means of the small householder, so I am waiting for the evolution of an affordable battery technology. I would like to see more information on this page about the evolution of battery technology.

    1. Hi Warwick, thanks for your message and feedback. Enova is currently working on the launch of its first community battery in partnership with Enosi and the University of Newcastle. You can find out more here: https://enovaenergy.com.au/shared-community-battery/ . We'll definitely be sharing more information about household batteries and community batteries in the future as the technology and affordability develops. Watch this space, thank you for your support.

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The future of energy is distributed and dispatched - and it looks completely different! | Enova Community EnergyThe future of energy is distributed and dispatched - and it looks completely different! | Enova Community EnergyThe future of energy is distributed and dispatched - and it looks completely different! | Enova Community EnergyThe future of energy is distributed and dispatched - and it looks completely different! | Enova Community Energy