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A new venture: a community power microgrid

First published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/new-venture-neighbourhood-microgrid-rob-catchlove

I’m pretty excited to say that I started a new project last week.   An interesting mix of innovation, community and climate action, and technology.    

Before I say what it is, let me say why.

Everything that I do with work, and at home, is done through the lens of taking action to reduce energy, waste and water footprint.  The world is warming at an alarming rate, and I think we all have a clear responsibility to take action.  I want to think that I have done everything I can to minimise the world warming beyond two degrees. 

So the story of this new project started at my home.  I’m in the process of putting in a solar and battery array at home.  We are transitioning off natural gas for heating, hot water and cooking.  Yes gas is cheap (now) and easy, but it’s still a fossil fuel.  I want our house to be run purely off electric appliances (the most efficient ones possible of course), and then source that electricity from our solar and battery system.  

But the exciting project is not about my place, but about a local microgrid. So rather than just introducing renewable energy at one house, I thought we could do more than that.  What if we had our own local microgrid that shared the use of solar and battery usage along the street?  It could be more efficient (ie less exporting and importing of electricity), cost less, reduce our footprint, and show that there are new ways of doing things.  It would also contribute to our sense of place and community.  We’d be doing something together. 

So last week I started a campaign along the street to see who was interested.  After door knocking half of the street I have about 85% interest.  People, with and without solar panels now, think this is worth looking at and taking further.   People seemed to be attracted to the concept of buying energy off their neighbours, and doing something as a whole community to transition towards a zero emissions future.

I’m talking about a microgrid that enables a whole series of houses to share the energy they produce.  We have a few different models in the way that could happen, and all of them have regulatory and technical (and financial) issues.  But the point is that until we try it out, we can’t figure out how we’ll solve those issues and what consumers are willing to change or accept when it comes to new electricity models.  And I’m not talking about disconnecting from the grid completely. 

I’m looking at a how we can make this work for people that already have solar, that don’t have solar, that are interested in battery storage, that rent, that own, and that use a lot or a little electricity.   I estimate that collectively this collection of houses spends over $100,000 a year on electricity usage and connections.  But interestingly is the potential for more investment, particularly in more solar panels on roofs.

Now I know some in the energy industry will balk at the prospect of a street (surrounded by the grid) doing something like this.  But I believe the transition of the electricity system is something that must happen within the established areas of the city, as well as the greenfield sites, apartment blocks, the remote communities and the introduction of new large scale renewable projects.  I want to show that it is something that the millions of Australians, that live cities and within the existing areas of the grid, can be part of. 

So we are going to push ahead, and hopefully show that with a strong people and consumer interest, it is possible. 

If you have any ideas or potential contributions then I’d love to hear them. Get in touch.

Thanks,

Rob.