Small regional communities are working to secure their own energy futures amid electricity price rises and widespread fears of blackouts.
Regional Victorian towns Ballan and Pomonal are investigating a community battery
Experts say batteries will be a big part of Australia’s renewable energy transition
Questions remain around the role community level batteries will play in the mix
A new report from the Australian Energy Market Operator shows electricity prices rose to their highest levels on record in the three months to June 30, leading to increasing energy bills across the east coast.
Communities like Ballan, 80 kilometers north-west of Melbourne, are driving their own renewable energy projects as they seek reliability, lower costs, and reduced environmental impact.
The volunteer-run Moorabool Environment Group is working with residents on the first steps of a project to bring a community battery to the town of almost 3,400 people.
Resident and group member Rose De la Cruz said Ballan was a “good candidate” for the technology.
“We do suffer from power outages quite a lot here and we have a growing lot of residential houses with solar on their roofs,” she said.
“At the moment everybody is talking about the cost of electricity, so people are interested in anything that will bring down the cost.”
The basic concept was for households and organizations with rooftop solar to feed into a shared battery and draw out electricity when needed.
Community batteries are becoming an increasingly popular option for regional communities.
The first community battery in Yackandandah, a small tourist town in north-east Victoria, was launched in July 2021 after two years of planning and fundraising.
The 274-kilowatt-hour battery that supplies electricity to 40 homes from solar panels on the roof of an old sawmill is part of a bigger mission to have the entire town powered by renewable energy.
It also serves as a backup power supply.
Residents in the western Victorian town of Pomonal, on the edge of the power grid, are also looking for solutions to eliminate blackout concerns.
Pomonal Power People member Dee-Ann Kelly said more people had become interested in the idea of a community battery.
“I am interested in the idea that not everyone needs to have solar,” she said.
“Down the track I am willing to do get solar, but for now I want to be able to utilize where we have got solar and where we may have solar in the future.”
She said the project was also about supporting people who did not have the ability to put solar panels on their properties.
“We have talked about not leaving people behind,” she said.
The town is part of a community battery feasibility study and is waiting for a report before deciding on the next steps.
Ms Kelly said sustaining interest and driving the project could be a challenge, given it could take many years and was not an “overnight solution”.
But she said she was confident the community’s desire for power reliability during disasters, such as bushfires, and broad focus on sustainability would drive continued support.
“We live in the beautiful Grampians and have nature all around us. This is what drives people to want to have a future and be involved in making really important decisions,” she said.
clean energy future
Australia Institute energy advisor Dan Cass said Australia had been over-reliant on “risky and expensive” coal and “increasingly expensive” gas.
Mr Cass said the community battery model would be part of the move to build clean energy resources quickly to avoid another energy crisis.
He said the Australian Energy Market Operator modeling showed a need to build thousands of gigawatts worth of battery storage over the next several years.
“We need a lot more batteries on the grid and we need them urgently,” he said.
“The question is who owns the batteries and what is the scale at which they are built?”
Mr Cass said it was likely large batteries, mid-scale community batteries, and small household batteries would be part of the solution.
“I think we will find eventually every freestanding roof in the country will be able to have solar panels and in some cases that will be backed up by batteries,” he said.
“It will give enormous power and control back to energy consumers and communities as well as being more resilient and zero emissions.
“Australia is in a great position … it is just a matter of planning this out well and this will be the last energy crisis Australia will ever need to face.”