A new ARENA-backed residential solar and storage trial aims to tap the “crucial but little-known” smarts of inverter technology to improve the stability and reliability of network electricity supply, while also cutting costs for consumers.
The trial, dubbed Networks Renewed, will be led by the UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures in conjunction with NSW and Victorian utilities Essential Energy and United Energy, as well as energy management start-up Reposit Power and inverter group SMA Australia.
Backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to the tune of $1.87 million, it will recruit more than 150 electricity customers in NSW and Victoria to test how “smart inverters” can work alongside rooftop solar and residential battery storage to boost power quality and reliability.
Reposit’s role in the trial is presumably based on its GridCredit technology – which got some attention earlier this year for its pairing with the first Tesla Powerwall battery system to be installed in Australia.
Basically speaking, GridCredit acts as the brains for solar and storage systems, using data and intelligence to determine when best to consume rooftop solar power, when to store it, and when to sell it back to the grid.
As Reposit Power CTO and co-founder Lachlan Blackhall put it, the technology effectively turns solar and storage into “a mini power station” that works just for the consumer.
“You capture excess solar when there is excess, and use it when it’s most efficient for you – when energy prices would otherwise be high,” Blackhall told One Step Off The Grid in an interview in February.
But ISF research director Chris Dunstan says it will be the interface between Reposit’s technology and the technology in the SMA inverters that will be key to the trial’s success.
“Using Australian innovation, this project will tap the crucial but little-known potential of smart inverters to improve power quality on the grid,” Dunstan in a statement on Tuesday.
“If managed well, solar and batteries not only avoid (grid power quality) problems, they can actually provide support to vulnerable parts of the grid and reduce the need for costly new network infrastructure.
“While this smart technology exists in all inverters sold today, electricity networks have rarely used it for this purpose and never with sophisticated controls.
“The facility is there,” Dunstan reiterated to One Step Off The Grid over the phone. “It’s just a matter of applying it. If you use inverters to help support the grid, rather than just maximise power returned back to the grid, it can benefit consumers too.
“So there’s the technological dimension, which is quite innovative – although it really shouldn’t be – and there’s the organisational or business model connection; how do we actually turn this into a real win-win for the relevant stakeholders?”
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the Agency saw Networks Renewed as part of its broader effort to accelerate Australia’s transition to a decentralised renewable electricity grids.
“Australian households are world-leaders in rooftop solar adoption and now we’re seeing fast-growing interest in residential battery storage,” he said.
“With the right approach, we see strong potential for this ‘decentralised energy’ revolution to improve stability of the grid while giving customers extra incentives to put solar on their roofs.”
Dunstan said the trial was expected to run for about two years, starting with a pilot-scale demonstration, involving about 50 households. Subject to the success of the pilot, the trial would expand to a market-scale demonstration, starting in the middle of next year and extending to between 150-200 households.