The concept of bypassing major energy retailers to trade rooftop solar-generated electricity between households, small businesses and community groups is inching closer to reality.
This month’s arrival of the Tesla battery in Australia is slated as a major shift in favour of consumers taking charge of their energy storage.
One Sydney entrepreneur has devised a system that would allow consumers to set up a virtual shop to trade their surplus energy with other households, small businesses and community groups in their grid.
Jitendra Tomar, from the Sydney-based start-up Local Volts, said it was about changing the way consumers buy electricity. "Anybody, whether you’re big or small, whether you’re a farmer or residential person, whether you’re a high school or tennis club, can become an energy farmer," he said.
"If I’m buying electricity, I can say ‘well I just want to buy for next month’ and I have a preference for rooftop solar coming from Manly, and if that’s not enough for me, I will take something from New South Wales as long as it’s rooftop solar, and if that’s not enough, I’ll go for windmills.
"And if you’re people living in an apartment and you want to buy from your tennis club, because you like the price, you have a special price for tennis club members, you say ‘yeah, I’ll buy electricity from my tennis club’. So finally we’re going to have a choice."
CitiPower and Powercor owns more than half of the poles and wires in Victoria’s power network. The company is installing 18 test sites for solar battery storage as part of a three-year trial to look at the network impact of solar batteries.
Glen Thomson, from CitiPower and Powercor, said he could see a future where traditional power generation was bypassed. "There’s no doubt that over time, the centralised model will come under greater threat, as home-based generation grows," he said.
"We see our grid as ultimately [being] the spine of allowing that to occur, as micro-grids are formed, as home generation technologies are rolled out over the next decade or so. "We are looking at what is the best way to enable our grid to use innovative technologies and enable customer choice."
Homeowners, community centres jump on Tesla trial
Homeowner Louise Holthouse had a battery installed as part of the trial and said she was keen to see the results. "We’ve really noticed that over the 10 years we’ve been here, that power prices have increased, and our family is not a large family with only two children," she said. "We’ve been given a password and a module that we can get to on the internet to check our consumption and also to check our storage in the battery."
The Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney is conducting virtual trials of local energy trading at five sites along the eastern seaboard. The Footscray Community Arts Centre in Melbourne’s Western suburbs is looking to become the first organisation of its kind to be powered by solar.
CEO and director Jade Lillie said the centre was running a crowdfunding campaign to combine with philanthropic donations to buy the panels and a battery. "We’re putting 30 kilowatts of solar panels on this roof, which is the warehouse, and 10 kilowatts of solar panels on Henderson House, which is the heritage-listed building," she said. "What we’ll be able to do is actually through the Tesla battery is store that energy during the day as well and then use it in the evening so we’re less reliant on mainstream grid-based power sources."
Ms Lillie says the centre aimed to save $15,000 in power bills each year. The project will also fund LED house lights for its performance space. The Australian Energy Council, which represents retailers and generators, said it was early days, but there was work underway to study the implications of solar trading within the electricity grid.
With a large component of energy bills made up of network fees and charges, it remains to be seen how much cheaper energy bills will be if consumers are able to trade between each other.
Amy Bainbridge is the ABC’s Consumer Affairs Reporter.