Battery blitz: Yarra Council looks to community batteries to improve solar access
Following the installation of Melbourne’s first community battery in Fitzroy North last year, the City of Yarra is keen to roll out more. Emily Anderson reports.
An initiative by Yarra City Council aims to accelerate the installation of more community batteries in inner-city Melbourne, to make access to renewable energy more equitable and affordable.
In collaboration with the City of Melbourne and the City of Port Phillip, the council is engaging with local communities to hear their concerns and identify potential locations for new batteries.
“There's been good turn up to the consultation sessions,” says Yarra City Councillor Amanda Stone.
“People are highly engaged, and they're asking, ‘When can I have a battery in my street?’”
Community batteries are a form of shared energy storage – they soak up excess energy from rooftop solar during the day and store it for use in the evening when demand is highest.
Anyone who is connected to the sub-network can benefit from this shared resource, even those who are unable to install their own solar panels, such as renters and apartment-dwellers.
Cr Stone says there are a number of considerations when deciding on a location for a new battery.
“There needs to be enough solar energy to feed into it, so it's got to have reasonable coverage on rooftops already.”
“But also, there needs to be some residences that are going to benefit because they don't have solar.”
Backed by funding from the State Government’s Neighbourhood Battery Initiative, the not-for-profit Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF) unveiled Melbourne’s first community battery on World Environment Day in June 2022.
The 309 kWh battery was installed in Fitzroy North in the City of Yarra and provides renewable energy to approximately 200 homes.
YEF Energy and Storage Officer Lachlan Hensey says that social equity was a key factor when selecting a battery model.
“We don't charge any subscriptions…the battery is just there on the network absorbing and discharging energy.”
“That way renters and people who live in apartments have a higher renewable content in their evening supply, and they don't have to pay to get that.”
Mr Hensey, who worked closely with a community reference group throughout the project, says the community voiced concerns regarding noise and the visual impact of the battery.
“No one wants a huge ugly box on the side of the street,” he says.
“It was the community's preference to have an artwork, and that's turned out to be one of the most successful aspects of the project.”
Another concern was the environmental impact of the materials used in battery manufacturing.
“Northvolt, who are the battery cell manufacturer, use 100% renewable energy to make these and 95% of the battery is recyclable,” says Mr Hensey.
“Looking to the future, we're very hopeful that we won't be relying on supply chains that are unethical or untraceable… and that there's a circular economy to battery manufacturing.”
The City of Yarra has a net-zero emissions target for the whole of Yarra by 2030 and
was one of the first councils to declare a climate emergency.
Cr Stone says that community engagement is “really effective in terms of changing behaviour” and moving towards a more sustainable future.
“The more people we can get contributing to and using renewable energy, the faster we'll be on that route to net zero."
Mr Hensey sees community batteries as an opportunity for the community to be involved in the clean energy transition.
“When assessing the value of these batteries, it's important to go beyond just the cost-benefit analysis,” he says.
“We should think about the environmental benefit and the social benefit of opening up the energy sector to a new way of doing things that involves the community."