Governance broadly refers to decision-making and responsibility for the battery, both in terms of its day-to-day operation, and in terms of decisions about how it should run, who is involved, and who benefits. These decisions are part of developing the operating model in this design stage. However, because conditions for the battery are likely to change over its life, these decisions need to be revisited and someone needs to be responsible for this, and for making sure the battery continues to operate as it should. Evaluation of how well the battery is fulfilling its core values is therefore part of governance, as is making adjustments as necessary, and reporting back to partners, stakeholders, and the community. Governance is also about who is consulted and how, and how disputes are resolved.
Good governance requires clear and transparent statements about process and policy. There are existing governance requirements for community groups (for useful guides, see here). As part of your planning and reporting, your group should clearly communicate your battery business model, including processes and structures for ongoing governance, including procedures for evaluation and review and for revising your model. Governance can be strengthened by including mechanisms for engagement and oversight, such as setting up a board, advisory group and/or a community reference panel. You should also consider issues like succession planning and key personnel risks (who will take over if core members of your group leave).
Site selection and land ownership are also relevant to ownership and governance, as leasing agreements and planning approvals may include conditions and provisions influencing the battery model. For example, local government or public utilities may require public interest or community benefit provisions. Other third parties may want benefits from the battery, or involvement in governance of the battery.
To date, community participation in neighbourhood battery models has included:
- Tariffs – customers sign up with the retail partner and have access to special price plans/tariffs associated with the battery. These may involve time-of-use pricing plans (which reflect the real costs of electricity and incentivise shifting energy use away from peak times).
- Subscription – customers sign up to receive services from the battery, usually storage services, but this could also include provision of green power from the battery, a service that could be provided to non-solar owners.
- Engagement – residents can participate in a range of engagement activities, which could include social media groups, surveys, public forums, design workshops, site visits, community events, energy cafes; or be selected to participate in reference groups or as community champions.
- Cultural connection – residents may simply feel a connection to the battery as a visible symbol of local climate action and energy transition. This may be enhanced by improving the aesthetics of the battery. In particular, neighbourhood batteries provide a canvas for community art, which enhance their symbolism and contribution to culture and place-making.
Other options for community participation include:
- Financial participation
- Membership – residents sign up to be part of the community energy group or neighbourhood battery project, paying a membership fee. This helps to fund the battery project.
- Peer-to-peer trading – solar homeowners store an amount of excess solar generation in the battery that they are then financially compensated for (through reductions to their electricity bill) and can be used by other homeowners.
- Indirect financial participation e.g. the battery enables residents to have an increased number of solar panels on their rooftop and an increased solar export limit, or they could have access to a fast electric car charger, powered by the battery.
- Rates – Environmental upgrade projects in Australia have been financed by a third party and then repaid through rates, administered by local councils. Such a financing scheme could similarly be applied to the neighbourhood battery context.
- Non-financial participation
- Membership – residents join the community energy group, without paying a fee, and contribute to the project to the extent that they are able. They are kept informed about the battery’s operation and impacts and participate in community activities associated with the battery. They may contribute to governance of the battery through a reference group or member voting.