Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Cynthia Shahan9
Can A 500-House Community Go Off The Grid In Australia?
April 2nd, 2014 by Cynthia Shahan
Off the grid is not a new concept. Tuning in and dropping off the main grid is an ongoing pursuit of many intellectual, nature-loving seekers time and again. Shangri-La or Akira Kirosawa’s Village of the Watermills come to mind. Reinventing community with ecological awareness is not a new venture. But how often is it successfully accomplished? The game-changers of renewable solutions are increasing community’s ability to maneuver in this off-grid direction with fewer resources to lose, especially in Australia.
RenewEconomy shares more of the story: “In the era of ever rising electricity prices, not to mention that thing called global warming, the idea of Australian households choosing to generate their own renewable energy – and not rely on the main grid – is looking less and less off-beat.”
According to a study published recently by Energy for the People and the Alternative Technology Association, the shift away from a centralised NEM to stand-alone community power solutions could be “quick and dramatic”, with most Australian regional towns and new housing estates expected to be able to function viably and economically off the electricity grid by as early as 2020.
Published in January, the report, called What happens when we unplug?, explores the consumer and market implications of taking community groups of 500 houses off-grid, using three Victoria-based scenarios modelled on the inner-Melbourne suburb of Preston; a new-build housing estate in Werribee; and a rural housing estate in Bendigo.
In a talk expanding on the report this week, the ATA‘s energy market specialist and consumer advocate Craig Memery said that the economics were constantly tipping the scale in favour of individual houses going off grid, but in terms of building economically viable, “none-of-your-business-Mr-Distributor” mini-grids for entire communities, the scales had already tipped.
“You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that, the more electricity prices go up, and the prices of solar and storage come down, the more incentive there is to go off-grid,” Memery said on Wednesday night in a talk at Swinburne University.
In fact, he added, “(the ATA Energy for the People study’s) analysis showed that, all costs added together, including buying back the asset value from the distributor, it was more cost effective for those communities to go off grid – both existing and new.”
Using less energy and using energy from clean, renewable resources are critical needs in today’s reality. An extremely decentralized electricity system based on renewables may be a long way off, or may never come about; however, leave it to the Australians to be thoughtfully looking in this direction. Of course, this future that a number of Aussies are looking to is a direction that makes electricity retailers uncomfortable. Good!
The plan assumes that one in every five of the houses in the off-grid community would house a 120kWh battery bank, roughly the size of the average modern kitchen island bench. For extended periods of little-to-no sun, there would also be back-up generation, supplied by two or three bio-diesel ready diesel generators.
For a community-scale project like this to work, Memery said, you would need a vertically integrated energy services company (ESCO) – the only key innovation the ATA plan is still waiting on.
The study assumes that lithium-iron-phosphate batteries would be used.
Notably, this isn’t the only study highlighting the possibility of off-grid development in Australia. “Last year, a CSIRO study suggested one-third of consumers could go off-grid by 2050, based on the prospect that it would be economic for households and businesses to do so from around 2030 onwards.”
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Photo Credit: dhilung / Foter / CC BY-SA
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