Two innovative residential solar+storage projects in Western Australia

While residential solar has bloomed in Australia, with the highest residential solar penetration rates in the world, supplying PV electricity to high-density accommodation residents remains a challenge. ARENA is providing funding to meet this challenge with a new project in southern suburbs of the Western Australian capital city Perth. Over 170,000 rooftop PV systems have been installed in Western Australia to date.

Further north in Perth, in the new suburb of Alkimos Beach, ARENA officials were joined by state and federal government ministers to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a central battery that will be coupled with 100 distributed rooftop solar arrays in the suburb. The Alkimos Beach 1.1 MWh lithium ion storage array will buffer the solar PV, with the aim to reduce the capacity of the grid extension needed to support the new suburb.

“Combining community-scale battery storage and rooftop solar presents a win-win for energy retailers, developers and consumers and can provide households with the benefits of storage without on-site installation and maintenance," said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht at the groundbreaking event. “Solar will work alongside battery storage to lower Alkimos Beach’s demand for electricity from the grid. This model has the potential to offer residents cheaper electricity bills and reduce grid connection costs for future new developments.”

Soaring grid costs have been blamed for Australia’s fast-rising electricity prices, and Western Australia’s state-owned utility Synergy is heavily subsidized by taxpayers to prevent unsustainable rate rises. Synergy is working with state land developer LandCorp and the private developer Lendlease on the project. Local supplier Energy Made Clean will deliver the battery array.

ARENA is providing AU$3.3 million (US$2.53 million) to the AU$6.7 million ($5.14 million) trial.

New solar+storage model for apartment dwellers

Many kilometers south near the port of Fremantle, the suburb of White Gum Valley will be the location of an additional ARENA-backed solar+storage project. In another new residential development, on the site of a former school, a medium density apartment and townhouse residential development will be equipped with rooftop PV and a battery system to make the apartment complex 70% to 80% self-reliant for its electricity supply. 50 apartments will be supplied by the solar+storage mini grid.

The project is small in size, coming in at only AU$2.6 million ($1.99 million) in total investment, according to ARENA figures. However, its implications for the provision of solar+storage for higher density living could be significant. The solar+storage array will be owned by the apartment strata management companies and will retail electricity to its residents.

In Western Australia’s regulated electricity market, previously only the state-owned utility was allowed to retail electricity to residents. In the new White Gum Valley project, the strata will be able to retail electricity for AU$0.257/kWh ($0.197/kWh) or below. Nearby homeowners with rooftop PV will be permitted to trade electricity with the apartment strata companies, or push electricity back to the grid. The apartment will remain connected to the grid.

ARENA will provide an AU$900,000 ($690,000) grant towards the White Gum Valley project, which is being jointly developed by Curtin University, grid operator Western Power, Landcorp, the City of Fremantle and Balance Services Group.

“The strata companies are acting as a utility, buying solar, battery infrastructure on behalf of the owners of the dwellings and then selling them on to tenants and owner occupiers,” Jemma Green from Curtin University’s Sustainability Institute told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “But they can also sell it at a discount to attract tenants to the marketplace, so it means the roof space can be commoditised and provide an extra revenue stream to the owners.”

“I think, we’re going to see a new breed of utilities emerging as a result of this innovation,” added Green.

Two electric cars will be charged by the solar+storage system and available to rent for the apartment residents.

ARENA R&D funding

ARENA also committed AU$17 million ($13 million) in R&D funding to nine Australian projects looking to commercialize solar, storage, grid integration, and other renewable projects today. Various Australian universities were recipients of the funding, including the Australian National University, which picked up AU$3.9 million ($2.99 million) in funding for two projects.

The Australian Solar Council commended ARENA on the funding of the close-to-commercial projects, however, CEO John Grimes noted that AU$1.6 billion ($1.23 billion) of funding has been stripped by the government from the renewables body.

“The Turnbull/Abbott Governments have cut AU$1.3 billion from ARENA and will no longer provide competitive grant funding for solar Research and Development,” said Grimes. He noted that while ARENA will be maintained to administer its ongoing projects, grants will no longer be given, with funding redirected towards providing debt of equity finance, to be rolled out in partnership with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

“This almost guarantees the end of early stage solar research and commercialization in Australia, because funding will no longer be available for it,” the Australian Solar Council added in a statement. “Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, continues to mislead the Australian public in saying not a dollar was being taken from funding for renewable energy with the announcement of a new Clean Energy Investment Fund.” Hunt attended the opening of the Alkimos Beach project today.

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