Among winners in this year’s Clean Energy Council Awards was a mini-grid of 16 houses in Mooroolbark in Melbourne’s north-east in which three of the houses don’t have solar but still benefit.
The awards announced in mid July, recognise the power of information and innovation in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The power of strategic communication is a winner
Among other winners was the Climate Council, recognised with the Business Community Engagement Award, for its strategic and effective communication that combated misinformation that blamed renewables for the loss of power in South Australian during major storms in September 2016.
The campaign to fight back against claims incorporated written and video communication, social media, backgrounding for journalists and stakeholder briefings.
The Outstanding Contribution to Industry Award was presented to former head of the Clean Energy Regulator, Chloe Munroe for her sustained leadership in the clean energy industry. Ms Munro also worked with Dr Alan Finkel on the recent review of Australia’s energy security.
The Clean Energy Council Innovation Award was shared by two projects, Horizon Power’s “Power Plans”; and GreenSync, PowerTec and AusNet’s Mooroolbark mini-grid project.
Horizon’s initiative is a new way of billing for electricity that is similar to a mobile phone plan. Customers can track their energy use via an app and save on energy bills by keeping usage under a set hourly allowance.
A mini grid at Mooroolbark proves energy networks are Go
The community mini-grid project in Mooroolbark, 37 kilometres north east of Melbourne, involves 16 homes that have been networked as a stand-alone mini-grid so they can share energy from solar and batteries and operate unplugged from the grid.
Three of the homes involved in the pilot have neither solar nor batteries.
GreenSync remotely operates the mini-grid through its cloud-based monitoring and control platform. It designed the smart solar- storage home systems in collaboration with Ecopower.
AusNet Services distributed energy & innovation manager Justin Harding said 13 battery cabinets and solar PV systems have been installed to date on homes participating in the pilot. These systems have been gifted to the residents by the company on a permanent basis.
A stabilisation unit supplied by Power Technology Engineered Solutions is up and running, and has been integrated into the mini grid control system
Mr Harding said the company has successfully run tests to take the street off-grid for up to four hours at a time, with power sharing between houses –including those without solar and storage – implemented.
It is able to remotely monitor, analyse and control the solar and battery systems. This allows it to take the homes off-grid remotely, or put them into uninterrupted power supply mode, and then bring them back onto the grid.
“AusNet Services is running a series of additional tests to understand the value of mini grid functions,” Mr Harding said.
“These include facilitating a high penetration of solar PV, reducing peak demand at the local network level, providing backup power supply and enabling potential community energy trading models.”
AusNet’s executive general manager, regulated energy services, Alistair Parker, said the mini-grid could change how communities use electricity in the future.
“The changes we are seeing across the energy sector are allowing us to be more creative and innovative in how we use the electricity network for the benefit of customers,” he said.
Mr Parker said the team was able to find solutions for the complex trial through “innovative thinking, persistence and problem solving” that could deliver more reliable and secure energy as more renewable energy is introduced into the network.
Not everyone needs PV and batteries to benefit
He said the trial has also shown that not everyone will need solar PV and batteries to benefit from the technology.
GreenSync chief executive Dr Phil Blythe said the project has been “world leading”, and highlights the benefit for the community in terms of energy bill savings.
“In five years we’re going to see the need for these types of technologies growing as renewables become more prevalent at the edge of the grid and more solar on rooftops,” he said.
“It’s going to become common place that utilities have ways of managing these types of solar communities.”
Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton said innovation across the renewable energy sector was the norm rather than the exception, and had helped to rapidly reduce the costs of generating power and improve efficiency.
“There are so many transformative projects and technologies happening in energy across the country, and a huge number of talented and passionate people constantly delivering improvements in the way Australia uses and delivers energy,” Mr Thornton said.
“The awards show the depth of what is happening across the industry, including the engagement work being done by groups such as the Climate Council.”
Mr Thornton said he was pleased to recognise Chloe Munro for her “powerful contribution” to the industry.
“Her leadership helped build a first-class regulatory body and supported the growing maturity of this industry – and we are all the richer for it.”