Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Cynthia Shahan


Can A 500-House Community Go Off The Grid In Australia?

April 2nd, 2014 by  

Photo credit: dhilung / Foter / CC BY-SAOff 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!

RenewEconomy adds more on what such an off-grid community would include, and the one thing still needed to make it a possibility:

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.”

Read more on this story, check out RenewEconomy‘s article.


Read more and related stories at:

One Year Living Off The Grid At Dancing Rabbit Eco Village

Tesla Could Help Customers Go Off Grid

Going Off Grid Nears Tipping Point, Morgan Stanley Reports

Off The Grid Book Is Off The Mark

Learning About Living Off The Grid As A Homesteading Intern

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Photo Credit: dhilung / Foter / CC BY-SA

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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • Wayne Williamson

    Sorry dudes, what the vidieo shows is a non tech society, I really don’t want to go back to the 1600s.

  • Bob_Wallace

    The picture if from the Barun Valley in Nepal.

    You can tell because there’s no Kangaroos….

  • JamesWimberley

    Common sense suggests that autarky all round is going to be much less efficient than a network that optimises both distributed and non-distributed assets. Distribution works well for pv solar, less for wind because of economies of scale, and not all for hydro, geothermal, tidal, wave, thermal solar, and power-to-gas. Battery technology is moving too fast to call this one, but there are several promising battery technologies (especially flow ones) that only make sense at scale, as with the reliable oldie pumped hydro. Not to mention that however fast the transition goes, we will still need many of those dinosaur grid-linked fossil assets for a while.

    That said, the *threat* of communities gong off-grid is a damn good weapon to scare utilities into changing their business models and stop trying to kill rooftop solar.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    There is a small typo: should be lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. Not lithium-ion.

    Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries are very well suited for grid storage, because they are very cheap, retail prices are about $500 per kWh, but they are also extremely durable. They can last up to 7000 cycles, if mainteined well and avoided deep discharges.

  • Larry

    With battery storage technology due to make significant improvements in the very near future, this scenario may very well repeat itself in thousands of locations

    • Jouni Valkonen

      Australia should have a push for this off-grid technology, because it is urgent to create markets for off-grid solutions so that the technology matures fast.

      Rich Western countries has only a World to save with cheap off-grid solutions, but in India and Africa we can save the lives of people with these kinds of off-grid solutions. Developing world should go directly into solar economy!

  • Will E

    What about the EV car as mobile back up battery.
    and its no future.
    It is easy to do, clean and cheap and no more energy bill to pay
    Make money, install Solar, make more money, install more Solar.
    Done and paid for in my old zero energy bill house in sunny Netherlands.

    • Jouni Valkonen

      EVs can be used in principle as back-up during black-outs or to prevent grid from collapsing during the centralized power production failure.

      But it is good to remember that EV batteries has limited cycle life and using EV battery as a grid storage, inevitably reduces the value of electric vehicle.

      Also assosiated hardware for feeding electricity back to the grid is quite expensive. And e.g. Tesla has said that they do not have any plans to allow feeding electricity back to the grid from Model S. And doing this, will probably void the eight-year warranty of battery.

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