Consumers want it, networks need it: Verdict in on world-first blockchain solar trading trial

Image: RENeW Nexus report

A world-first solar sharing trial using an industry-leading Australian software platform by has found peer-to-peer energy trading to be technically feasible, popular with consumers, and a potential boon for network operators; but not likely to take off under current network tariff structures.

The RENeW Nexus project used Power Ledger’s blockchain technology to track the transactions of rooftop solar energy traded between 48 households in Fremantle, Western Australia, from late 2018 until June 2019.

The trial was led by WA’s Curtin University with backing from the federal government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, and in partnership with Murdoch University, City of Fremantle, Landcorp, Synergy, Western Power, Water Corporation, Power Ledger, energyOS, CSIRO/Data 61 and CISCO.

As well as trialling P2P solar trading the project also includes a study of a distributed Virtual Power Plant (VPP) as well as a microgrid with a 670kWh community battery – currently under construction – that will service homes within the East Village housing development in Fremantle.

On the P2P front, Power Ledger’s platform worked with the existing electricity network and energy retailer to enabled households to buy and sell excess rooftop solar energy in near real-time, with residents able to view electricity usage in 30-minute intervals.

A 60-plus page report on the project, published on Thursday by Power Ledger and Curtin and Murdoch Universities, found blockchain-enabled solar trading to be technically feasible, and likely to be well supported by consumers, but not-so financially rewarding under current tariff structures.

“Participants had a positive view of P2P energy trading and could see its benefits but stated that changes to the tariff structure would be required to make it attractive,” the report said.

The report noted this could be remedied by coupling a P2P with a dynamic feed-in tariff, as a way to deal with excess solar during the day without the need for government subsidies.

The report also said policymakers should consider coupling P2P with the ability for households with batteries to trade via a virtual power plant “to monetise their excess solar at all times of the day, without any subsidy, and also provide services to the grid”.

On VPPs, the report highlighted their potential to give solar battery owners access to additional revenue streams, boosting the case for adding battery storage, while also boosting energy autonomy by between 30% and 68%.

For the network, meanwhile, the study found – like others before it – that VPPs have the potential to deliver more cost-effective outcomes than traditional means of upgrading and maintaining the grid by adding more poles and wires or other costly infrastructure.

“Power Ledger has demonstrated how peer-to-peer energy trading can incentivise the right outcomes for the grid in a more cost-effective way,” said report co-author and Power Ledger chair Dr Jemma Green.

“P2P and VPP trading is a viable alternative to curtailing the output of renewables, or needing more subsidies to encourage the consumption of excess solar during the day.

“(But) if governments around the world are serious about incorporating renewable energy into their future energy planning then it needs to be price-competitive,” Dr Green added.

“For markets that have or are retiring their feed-in tariffs, P2P and VPP trading market mechanisms can replace FiT income for households and at the same time facilitate a more stable grid, dealing with the grid problems that renewables can cause.”

The report recommends energy network and market operators should explore alternative methods and structures of charging for network usage to more accurately reflect the benefits to transmission and distribution delivered by peer-to-peer trading.

To this end, it says, network operators should improve metering infrastructure by installing advanced (smart) meters and designing systems for collecting and communicating the metering data to third parties.

“Australian network and market operators can learn further from the RENeW Nexus project and should monitor the next stage which will examine the East Village project involving a 670kWh battery,” the report said.

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