Developing the potential for microgrids in Northern NSW

This week, 100% Renewables was delighted to participate in a Northern NSW Renewable Energy Workshop at the Ballina Surf Club, hosted by the Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy and Northern NSW, the Hon Ben Franklin.

Barbara Albert presented and ran a workshop on opportunities in Northern NSW for microgrid technologies that would build on the region’s long-standing leadership in renewable energy.

The workshop brought together senior management and sustainability leaders from several of the region’s councils, including Kyogle, Tweed, Ballina, Byron, Lismore, Rous County, Clarence Valley and Richmond Valley.

The workshop heard of the phasing out of most of our fossil-fuelled power stations over the next 25 years, and how demand for new generation is being met by renewables at all levels, from utility-scale to mid-scale, and by businesses and homes choosing solar and battery storage.

Graphic sourced from the Energy Council

Graphic sourced from Green Energy Markets

Barbara’s talk centred on the potential opportunities for, and barriers to wider implementation of microgrids that could provide secure, reliable and affordable energy from local systems operating in parallel with or independent from the grid. From customer-level ‘nanogrids’ to community-based systems serving homes, apartments, businesses or even whole towns, and from ‘virtual’ to remote microgrids, the opportunities for consumers to benefit from localised sustainable energy generation and sharing, and to provide support services to the main grid seem endless.

Graphic sourced from Berkeley Labs

The potential benefits of microgrids were emphasised, including lower transmission and distribution losses from local generation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, security of supply, network peak demand smoothing, income generation, cost saving, increased participation by consumers, and deployment of new technologies. Challenges, such as tariff structures, regulatory barriers, funding and incentives, and developing capacity and solutions with networks and technology providers were also highlighted.

Barbara presented a number of case studies of microgrid projects in Australia as well as several that are in development. These and related examples included:

  • Community-based microgrid trials, including a 17 home trial in Mooroolbark in Victoria by AusNet Services and GreenSync, and community-owned retailer Enova’s project is in the Arts and Industrial Estate in Byron Bay,
  • Virtual power plant (VPP) projects, including Enova’s VPP, AGL’s 1,000 home virtual power plant trial in Adelaide, and Powershop and Reposit’s new ‘Grid Impact’ plan. The ACT currently operates Australia’s largest virtual power plant, which has already demonstrated how it benefits consumers and helps the network avoid extreme peak demands,
  • Remote microgrid projects such as Hydro Tasmania’s projects on King and Flinders Islands that can supply 100% renewable energy to a community of over 2,000 residents, and Horizon Power’s 34 microgrid projects in regional and remote towns such as Kununurra.

Also highlighted was the recent success story of the town of Newstead in Victoria. Newstead has successfully negotiated new network charges with the distributor Powercor for locally produced and shared renewable energy. This is a significant milestone, which will help Newstead reach its goal of 100% renewable energy including local power-sharing and may pave the way for similar arrangements in other networks.

In the workshop, the representatives of the councils, supported by staff from 100% Renewables, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, NOROC and the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, debated the objectives and purpose of developing microgrids in Northern NSW, as well as the opportunities and barriers to progress.

Outcomes from this workshop, which will include recommendations relating to policy, regulations, funding and investment models, governance as well as the development of more microgrid trials, will be documented and presented to the Parliamentary Secretary in due course. Overcoming barriers to microgrids will help the Northern NSW region to maintain its leadership in climate action, and will help local councils and their communities achieve their ambitious carbon commitments.

Closing remarks

Microgrids and local energy sharing is a rapidly evolving space, and we are seeing the emergence of the first local sharing network tariffs. Communities wanting greater self-sufficiency and more renewable can build on existing pilot projects and can now make their own community microgrids a reality.

100 % Renewables helps councils and communities with implementing innovative solutions to help address barriers to the uptake of renewable energy. Please contact Barbara or Patrick for more information.

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