Big community battery on little island

Phillip Island on Victoria’s southern coast, is running off a community battery.

The island in Victoria’s southern coast is best known as a holiday haven for Melbourne people and home to the famour little penguin parade, and a motorcycle race. Those tourism drawcards are squeezing power availability.

This week, the $10 million Phillip Island Community Energy Storage System was switched on to guarantee power to the regional area’s 8000 homes when demand spikes or external supplies falter.

This has been a problem when hosting the Australian MotoGP and the seasonal surge of tourists wanting to enjoy its iconic penguins.

And it’s a spike in demand previously filled by expensive-to-run and polluting diesel generators.

“The population of Phillip Island more than quadruples over summer, which puts a strain on the local electricity network, and at times, leads to power dropping out,” says AusNet Chief Executive Officer Tony Narvaes. “Replacing generators with the big battery will stabilise electricity supply on the island when it’s needed most.”

The battery, near the village of Wimbledon Heights, isn’t yet being fully recharged by renewable sources. But that is the goal, he adds.

The Bass Coast Shire Council wants Phillip Island to become Victoria’s first “fully sustainable” and “carbon neutral” tourist hot spot by 2030. It believes the community battery will “potentially slash power bills, with residents able to use the grid to store their power”.

The 5MW/10MWh system, comprising Chinese-made lithium-ion batteries occupies a 38m x 4m fenced compound on council land. It is connected to the island’s power grid via underground cables.

It’s designed to provide backup power to supply more than 8000 homes for two hours, or 700 homes for a full day. The batteries are expected to have a 10-15 year lifespan.

Big community battery roadmap

But it’s just one of the Bass Coast Shire Council’s battery projects.

The council has also been awarded two grants of more than $500,000 under the Victorian Government’s Neighbourhood Battery Initiative.

The first will go towards a feasibility study of providing batteries on residential streets. It’s hoped these will boost the island’s ability to store rooftop solar and other renewable power sources.

The second will fund a 12-month trial of 100 customers connected to the new PICESS battery, exploring how AI can minimise exposure to high tariff surges in the general electricity market and act as a “virtual storage” system for local residents.

The Victorian Government is spending $42 million to install about 100 neighbourhood batteries across the state. It is working with suburban and regional councils and community groups to identify the most suitable locations.

The Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has committed $171 million towards funding 342 experimental community-scale battery systems.

Its efforts are aimed at smoothing the peak supply of solar power from more than three million rooftop systems to the national grid.

“All that solar energy is helping us to switch our electricity system to clean energy. But it also causes its own headaches, particularly in the critical area of grid stability,” it said in a statement.

The CSIRO released its Renewable Energy Storage Roadmap report in March. It says Australia will need six times more grid battery capacity than is available today.

It’s identified a reluctance by individual households to invest in batteries on top of their solar panel. But ARENA believes the concept of community batteries may help provide energy storage for both local communities and the national grid.

“Not everyone is able to install rooftop solar, but by storing electricity close to the point of consumer demand, we can reduce network costs and alleviate constraints in areas with high solar penetration,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller says. “This will ultimately reduce electricity costs for all consumers.”

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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