A number of Australia’s electricity networks have been undertaking trials co-funded by taxpayers via the Australian Renewable Energy Agency which have been making groundbreaking findings.
These trials have discovered that the internet, computer chips and batteries really do work.
It’s astounding, I know, but they’ve found out something else, too: if you offer to pay householders to provide power at certain times or to reduce power demand, they’ll happily do it. Provided, of course, they can be confident it isn’t just a pea and thimble trick that results in them being ripped off somewhere else.
We should all be well beyond this ridiculous game where electricity networks say the physics of the technologies that work wonderfully well in billions of laptop computers and mobile phones (lithium-ion batteries, wireless communications and computer chips) may not apply to their little geographic patch of electric poles and wires.
But if you own a battery or a solar system, or you are thinking about purchasing these things, you should be thankful that trials in the remote control and co-ordination of household power equipment, such as Project Edge and Project Edith, have taken place.
The reason is twofold.
First is that it should mean it becomes easier for you to connect to the grid a solar and battery system as big as you want (at least as big as any sane householder would consider sensible). Networks have been nervous that large amounts of solar and/or batteries could inject power at a scale and time that could undermine power quality and possibly overload transformer capacity. If they can monitor and, if need be, control this equipment, they can avoid such problems.
Second, it should hopefully make your battery and solar system more valuable and useful.
Cheaper battery capacity
The Australian solar industry has been spectacularly successful at persuading householders to get increasingly larger solar systems over time. The average system in the early-2010s was 1.5 kilowatts. Today it is about 8 kilowatts. We are at the point where the average household solar system produces significantly more power than a household can ever consume, even if they managed to squeeze all their power consumption into the daytime.
I expect that the solar industry will do the same thing with battery systems. That’s because adding incremental, additional capacity to a battery system when it is being installed will become increasingly cheap, just as it is now with solar modules.
However, my firm’s analysis indicates that most households using the average-sized battery system being installed today, at about 12 kilowatt-hours, will experience many days in a year where they won’t need to make full use of the battery’s capacity.
Essentially, the current average-sized home battery will be underused just serving the household’s electricity needs, and should export power to the grid. Yet home battery system capacity will probably grow over time to be much bigger than 12 kilowatt-hours.
If this battery can be controlled to export power to the grid at the times the local network is experiencing high overall demand, it could represent a vastly cheaper option than upgrading the poles and wires. The trick, of course, is getting a monopoly network to pay you for that service, rather than them doing the more expensive pole and wire upgrade.
Hopefully, government officials will wake up to the fact that the time for taxpayer-funded trials has ended and it is time for implementation. They might even realise that waiting and hoping for a monopoly to innovate is akin to waiting for hell to freeze over.
Instead, they might set up a new authority charged with competing against the networks through encouraging deployment and smart control of distributed energy technologies such as household batteries.
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