Why sharing may be future of energy

Two years ago, NSW solar installer Geoff Bragg had a vision. “Imagine a system where one customer could sell energy to another customer, via the Distribution Network Service Provider, who ‘clips the ticket’ for transferring the energy,” he wrote in an article published on RenewEconomy in March 2014.

“Anyone with a smart meter could join the market as a buyer or seller,” Bragg wrote. “…If that sounds difficult to do, remember this is an IT and accounting exercise (the physics is sorted already). Think about peer-to-peer file sharing… It would be a piece of cake for a handful of the right IT boffins.”

Fast forward to September 2016 and Bragg is working on turning that vision into some sort of a reality.

His company, New England Solar, and local real estate group Paragon Property Partners are co-developing a unique project near the NSW regional city of Armidale that offers buyers the chance to not only build their dream home from scratch in the NSW northern Tablelands, but to become part owners of their own power company: a purpose-built embedded network through which to buy and sell the solar generated on the community’s rooftops – and stored in its batteries – peer to peer.

Launched to the local community last Thursday, the project, called Lingerwood, comprises 10 neighbouring properties of 5 acres each on which buyers can build the architecturally designed smart home of their choice.

Bragg says the solar and battery storage systems used across the development will vary in brand and capacity from house to house, depending on each household’s particular needs or wants.

The smart meter technology – which is being custom-made for NE Solar by some of those IT boffins Bragg had imagined, in this case who are “pretty well connected with the ANU” – will be uniform throughout the development. And the data they collect will be sent out to a third party that will process it and do the billing.

The embedded network assets, meanwhile, that enable the electrons to flow between households, will be community-owned, effectively making them shareholders in a utility.

That “utility” will comprise a 200kW transformer installed on site, connected to the Essential Energy distribution network via a main switchboard and ‘gateway’ smart-metering point.

Each household will then be supplied via underground sub-mains to supply pillars, located on community land adjacent to each house lot. This behind-the-meter network is connected to each house via 10 separate smart meters.

These shared assets will be managed by the Lingerwood “community entity”, a mechanism along the lines of a body corporate that will contract with a yet to be determined local “renewables friendly” electricity retailer, to supply the gateway with energy as needed, and credits for exported clean energy.

The ultimate aim, however, is for the households to be largely energy autonomous, relying on the embedded network – and perhaps the wider grid in periods of inclement weather.

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