A small island at the bottom of Tasmania is trialling a cutting-edge future grid where the electricity network also participates as a customer — and it could have big impacts for the rest of the country.

The vision of the CONSORT Bruny Island Battery Trial is simple, ‘In the future customers will have batteries. When we have a network problem the solution is already there, we just need to start paying customers to solve it for us’.

And there is a network problem on Bruny Island. The thin electricity cable that supplies the island gets overloaded on public holidays when tourists come to visit. Historically, TasNetworks — the state-owned electricity network — managed this overload using diesel generation. But since the first customer-owned battery was installed last year, TasNetworks has been able to buy energy from participants, reducing the amount of diesel needed or eliminating its need completely for some peaks.

Trialling the solution

CONSORT is a collaborative research project involving The Australian National University, The University of Sydney, University of Tasmania, battery control software business Reposit Power and network provider TasNetworks.

The three-year trial, which commenced in January 2016 and was awarded $2.9 million in funding by Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), incorporates several research objectives:

  1. The Australian National University is researching new improved algorithms for network management using distributed energy storage. The results of this research will be used to improve the autonomous operation of energy storage
  2. The University of Sydney is investigating what tariff structures best reflect the value of energy storage to the networks and what incentives are required for customers to install and use batteries in the most beneficial way for both networks and customers
  3. The University of Tasmania is investigating the social aspects of energy storage and how it influences customer behaviour

To address how batteries can be used by households to manage their energy, a Reposit controller, developed by energy management provider Reposit Power, has been installed at each of the 40 participating households. The system is the crucial conduit in connecting customers to the grid so they can actively trade the energy they produce and store with TasNetworks.

This technology will help actively keep the network within voltage and capacity limits, reducing the reliance on diesel generation during peak season, and enabling battery owners and networks to work together to maximise the value of solar energy.

Fully automated algorithm

The fully automated Network-Aware Coordination (NAC) system, an algorithm that optimises the battery response to network constraints, is the first of its kind. It coordinates batteries equipped with Reposit controllers to support the network when and where it is needed. In the future, it may also have the capacity to integrate EVs, smart appliances and other distributed resources as they come online.

Senior Network Innovation Engineer, Laura Jones, said the algorithm answers the question; now we have all of these resources, what is the best way to orchestrate them to resolve the problem?

“This is a surprisingly difficult problem as we need to be able to accurately predict what is going to happen tomorrow,” Ms Jones said.

“For Bruny Island, this is driven by so many local issues, like how many people are visiting the island, the weather or any events that might be running. NAC solves these problems for us.”

Adapting to industry change

The trial comes at a time in Australia when there is an increasing uptake in customer-owned solar and storage. This transformation has inspired TasNetworks to aspire to a more dynamic, intelligent electricity network, one where its use can be increased to maximise the value of the investment into it. The trial gives TasNetworks an idea of the data it needs from customers to be able to run the electricity network closer to its limits in the future.

Ms Jones said the trial has transferable learnings for other areas of Tasmania and potentially the rest of Australia.

“The Bruny trial is to test a future. And we have learned so much in creating this future on Bruny Island,” Ms Jones said.

“Some of the things we have learned we will be applying directly to the rest of our network, while others will require more development and thought.”

The humble advantage

Ms Jones said the benefits of a smarter grid are not just lower energy bills for customers (by avoiding the need to build new or augment the existing electricity network), but a more humble advantage less considered by electricity networks: customer satisfaction.

“There is a component of allowing customers to do the things they want to on our network. This could be things like peer-peer trading, participating in energy markets, or other services they value,” Ms Jones said.

TasNetworks’ pursuit of customer satisfaction in the trial is what saw it win the Business Community Engagement Award at the 2018 Clean Energy Council Awards in July.

The high level of customer satisfaction from the participants in the trial so far is what leads TasNetworks to believe that it offers a realistic vision of the energy grid of the future.  

“The trial provides a peek into a future electricity network where everyone can benefit. We think it is realistic, but there is much change required before we can get there,” Ms Jones said.

“There are other possible futures of course. For example, in the one where there is no grid participation from customers, we need to build much more network and it will be much harder to turn off the old fossil fuel-based generators. I think the one we’re testing is much better.”

The project is already building an evidence base to improve the way distributed energy resources like rooftop solar and batteries can be integrated into the wider network. Bruny Island presents an opportunity to guide the rest of Australia on how batteries should be put to their best use in the future.

To learn more about the CONSORT Bruny Island Battery Trial, visit brunybatterytrial.org. 

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