Skip navigation

Private Member's Statement - Renewable Energy

13 March, 2024.

With the current cost-of-living crisis, more and more households are choosing to install solar in a bid to reduce their own energy costs, as well as contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions. However, the existing energy network infrastructure struggles to manage the flooding of the grid with excess power supply at peak production times, leading to volatile feed-in tariffs for solar production and a growing dissatisfaction among consumers on the way their power is managed, accessed and reimbursed.

One of the key challenges in meeting the Australian Government's goal of 82 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 is the sheer scale of renewable energy sites required and the infrastructure to get that energy to consumers. Virtual energy networks [VENs] and community batteries offer a way to rapidly decarbonise through consumer participation in the energy network. It brings energy generation and storage to a localised site, with the benefits being seen locally. Tapping into a renewable resource brings self-sufficiency and reliability. There is a potential to be leaders in this field. With the fact that nearly one in three homes in Australia already has solar panels lies the potential solution to the massive challenge of adapting our current energy infrastructure to suit renewable energy production and storage.

One community group in Wollondilly is not waiting for the solution to be offered to them. Rather, they are taking matters into their own hands. Inspired by a successful small-scale agriculture VEN, which included participants such as Pecora Dairy, WinZero is implementing a trial of a VEN in the Southern Highlands, allowing a group of motivated volunteer participants to take control of their own energy security. A virtual energy network works as a peer-to-peer trading system. Excess solar that is created can be given or sold to another consumer within the network. So beyond just powering their own site, this sees a sharing of energy and resources, and thus savings, between users in the network. The access to power stored on site is invaluable. Not relying on the grid addresses energy efficiency as well as energy security. In producing energy from existing rooftop solar and storing it in batteries, or distributing it to other households in the network that do not have solar, this community group is leading the way in implementing a sustainable and resilient energy system using an innovative approach that empowers communities and individuals.

In addition to virtual energy networks, community batteries are a reliable and exciting option for supplementing the power supply to residents. A large capacity battery gets installed in a neighbourhood and nearby residents are connected to the battery to feed in excess power that is created through their rooftop solar that would otherwise be sent back into the grid. It is then stored in the local battery and drawn upon at times when solar production is being created by a household, such as at night-time or during inclement weather. Storing power locally in a community battery further enhances power security and reduces carbon emissions.

Reduced pressure on the supply grid and reduced carbon emissions are wins for everyone, and these are issues that should be prioritised by government. One immediate incentive is the financial benefits to the individual resident in taking control of their own power supply and storage. Community batteries and virtual energy networks represent a relatively simple intervention that has the potential to reduce the cost of living for a huge number of households, with minimal additional infrastructure investment from the Government. We know that consumers are already turning to solar panel installations on their homes to beat rising electricity costs. By creating a VEN complemented by a community battery, there is an opportunity to maximise the resources that already exist in so many households today, along with encouraging more people to install good quality, large sized solar panel systems.

The WinZero VEN trial already underway shows what can be achieved when motivated individuals work together. We need real climate solutions, fast. Why wait for the infrastructure to catch up when there are small‑scale, viable solutions that can be rolled out today with very little upheaval to the existing structure? The energy network will take time to evolve to new methods of energy production, but with Australia's climate commitments deadlines fast approaching, solutions are needed now. Australia can achieve its clean energy transition successfully, and maximising the potential of household solar and community batteries through virtual energy networks will play a vital role in transitioning to a renewables-based economy.