Community batteries are helping neighbours in Australia share energy – here’s how

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Victoria Masterson, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • In Australia, neighbourhoods are using community batteries to store solar energy locally.
  • This helps reduce their bills and eases pressure on the electricity grid at peak times.
  • Wind and solar energy isn’t always needed when it’s produced – so storing it means it can be used later when demand is high.

Community batteries are being trialled in neighbourhoods across Australia. These help residents pool and share solar energy.

Here’s a short explainer.

What are community batteries?

Community batteries are energy storage units based in local neighbourhoods.

Residents with solar panels on their homes can use them to store spare electricity they haven’t used. By pooling excess energy from local homes, the community batteries build up a store of electricity for later use. Typically, energy stored during the day when sunlight is plentiful will be released in the afternoon and evenings during peak times when energy demand – and its cost – is higher. This eases pressure on the electricity grid.

Community batteries vary in size and might look like a fridge or a shipping container. A one-megawatt hour (1MWh) battery can power up to 1,000 average homes for about two hours.

Graphic of community batteries.
Community batteries are neighbourhood solar-energy storage systems. Image: McKell Institute

Where are community batteries already used?

In Australia, electricity distributors are trialling community batteries in various neighbourhoods. More than 30% of Australian homes have rooftop solar panels, according to the Australian Government. Solar is the country’s fastest growing type of energy generation and accounted for 10% of Australia’s electricity in 2020-2021.

In Western Australia, an initial trial by state utilities Western Power and Synergy in Alkimos Beach north of Perth involved 119 homes joining a community battery scheme.

Households are typically paid for sending their spare electricity to the community battery, and are then charged a bit less for using energy from it. Australia’s ABC News reports that householders saved about AUS$81,000 on electricity costs over the five years of the trial. They also consumed 85% less energy from Australia’s electricity grid at peak times.

In New South Wales on Australia’s east coast, electricity distributor Ausgrid is running community battery trials in another three areas. Ausgrid says the benefits of community batteries include removing the need for homes to buy their own batteries and keeping electricity prices down for residents and the wider community.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Global warming can be beaten thanks to this simple plan

The World Economic Forum’s Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

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Why does energy storage matter?

When the sun shines and the wind blows, it can produce plentiful renewable energy – often much more than is needed at the time.

An example is a wind farm producing energy during the night, when demand is typically lower. Wind power that could have supplied more than a million homes was wasted in 2020 because there was nowhere to store it, according to a recent report for UK-based renewable energy company Drax by professional services group KPMG.

Storage tackles this problem. It can provide energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, and can be used at times of high energy demand.

Different types of renewable energy can be stored in different ways. For example, water can be released downhill through turbines to create electricity at times of high demand. This is a type of hydroelectric energy storage known as pumped storage.

Other renewable storage solutions include thermal energy storage. This captures waste heat from buildings and industrial processes and stores it for use later.

The Global Battery Alliance

By 2040, batteries in homes and businesses will account for 57% of the world’s energy storage capacity, according to the Global Battery Alliance.

This is a collaboration of public and private sector organizations launched at the World Economic Forum in 2017.

One of the Global Battery Alliance’s visions is to use batteries to provide 600 million people with access to electricity. This includes closing the gap between those with and without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa by 70%.

Batteries will also play a big role in reducing the carbon footprint of the power and transport sectors, the alliance predicts. The two sectors currently create about 40% of annual carbon emissions globally.

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