Artist's impression of the Huntlee development.

Brookfield will test the case for taking entire suburbs off grid, in a $1.1 million study that could see NSW’s Huntlee development in the Hunter Valley become Australia’s first off-grid suburb.

The $1.1 million study being conducted by Brookfield Energy, which has received $442,000 from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, will see Flow Systems (owned by Brookfield) work with Siemens, Kinesis and CSIRO to determine whether renewables, battery storage and other enabling technologies can power new suburbs reliably and cost effectively.

If the technology is successfully demonstrated, NSW’s Huntlee development, developed by LWP Property Group, could see 20,000 new residents in 7500 homes powered entirely by off-grid renewables.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said falling renewable costs and increasing network costs made it a good time to explore microgrid technologies.

“If this latest work shows renewables, battery storage and enabling technologies can reliably and cost effectively power new suburbs, it could set a precedent for residential developments and potentially accelerate the uptake of renewables in Australia,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“There are a number of regulatory challenges and constraints and technical risks facing microgrids. Brookfield will share key insights about overcoming these barriers with the energy industry.”

Brookfield Energy chief executive Richie Sheather said there was an emerging market for the technology, saying: “We are excited to be exploring sustainable alternative solutions for energy and water infrastructure solutions and see an emerging competitive market for large-scale local microgrids leveraging high penetration renewable.”

Flow Systems’ Terry Leckie said the goal was to develop a model that has 10 times the penetration of renewables of the current grid at an equivalent cost.

“Proving this can be done technically and commercially will be a real step change for embedded renewables in this country,” Mr Leckie said.

Huntlee project director Stephen Thompson said having “the very last in renewables” was key to the master-planned community’s future.

“For quite a number of years, we have been investigating ways to incorporate cutting-edge renewable technology into the very fabric of the town,” Mr Thompson said.

“We’re excited by the possibility of developing Australia’s first town-scale greenfield microgrid and all of the advantages that level of innovation would bring to our residents and commercial operators.

“If the proposed model for Huntlee is successful, it will positively influence the nature of housing, employment, business, transportation and education for our future residents.”

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