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What are the benefits of a mini grid?

Five minutes with Alistair Parker

25 MAY 2017

Alistair Parker

Alistair Parker 
Executive General Manager
Regulated Energy Services

What is AusNet Services doing?

We are trialling a mini grid in Mooroolbark in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

It’s looking at different scenarios and providing us insights into how people might use energy in the future.

We want to know what benefits a mini grid might provide communities, how customers respond to sharing and generating their own power and what type of technology is needed to make sure the mini grid is stable, reliable and delivers good power quality.


What is a mini grid?

There are different definitions of what a mini grid is, and mini grids can be set up in many different ways.

In our mini grid trial in Melbourne’s outer east, we have 14 homes that can generate, store and manage power, and can be separated from the electricity network together with two homes that do not have solar or batteries.

The solar and batteries are all monitored and controlled remotely, and the idea is to progressively add intelligence to the home solar-storage systems.

One misconception with mini grids is that they are always about disconnecting completely from the electricity grid. In our trial, the main focus is actually on how we can integrate new technology such as solar panels and batteries into the existing electricity network. This will help us improve power reliability and security, and also allow households that generate their own electricity to continue to earn money from sharing it with their neighbours and the wider grid.


Why would a business that provides customers electricity through poles and wires be investing in mini grids? 

Customers are already making the choice to install solar panels and batteries. Through this trial we want to make sure that our network can support these changes as well as provide benefit to the broader community.

The network was originally built to support power flowing one way, to homes and businesses. As more people export electricity from their own solar, we need to make sure the network can support this. But it also provides us a great opportunity to investigate new ways we can use and share electricity through initiatives like mini grids.


How could customers benefit from a mini grid?

Our trial could help improve security and reliability for customers in the future.

For example, if a tree falls on a powerline and causes an electricity outage, we might be able to use technology to keep homes powered.

Solar panels and batteries are expensive and not everyone can afford them, but with the mini grid we are trialling, we’ve shown that not everyone will need this technology to benefit.

Mini Grid project

How long until we see mini grids being rolled out across Australia?

I believe it’s still some years away, but we are definitely getting closer.

But, what I think we’ll see more of in the next few years is a rapid increase of people installing batteries in their homes. As prices drop, it will make more financial sense for people to install them.

The electricity network will still play an important role in our energy future, enabling customers to be seamlessly supplied with power that will be from a combination of large-scale generators, PV on the roof and batteries.


What role do policy makers have as people move towards newer energy technology like batteries?

We need changes in pricing structures to make it fairer.

We need to make sure that customers who can’t afford this new technology aren’t financially penalised and those who are able to take up these new products and services are rewarded for delivering benefits to the broader community.

For example, is there a way to encourage homes to use energy stored in batteries in peak times so they can help reduce the need to build expensive power stations or new infrastructure.


Residential solar batteries
 

Read more on our
mini grid project