The Fitzroy North Community Battery was officially unveiled by the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Victorian Government. Photographs by Matt Krumins, courtesy of the City of Yarra. Artist Hayden Dewar.

Monday, 6 June, 2022

By Sarah Wilson

The launch of Melbourne’s first inner-urban community battery on Sunday 5 June is welcome news, and not just for the local Fitzroy North residents. This particular battery, Victoria’s first community battery owned by a not-for-profit organisation, is a textbook case of how to engage the local community and key stakeholders to bring benefits to the wider energy system. And it is an object of beauty to behold!

At its essence the Fitzroy North community battery aims to demonstrate the operational and commercial viability of a community battery model in an inner-urban setting. All households on the same part of the network as the battery will stand to benefit regardless of whether they are home owners, or renters, or if they have solar panels on their roof or not. And whilst the operational/regulatory side of the battery is a somewhat complex issue it is a simple case of storing in the battery energy produced by the sun to be used during peak consumption times (in the early evenings and mornings).

Whilst this is a momentous occasion for the community and the local energy providers, in practice the local residents will see no change to their day-to-day activities. There is nothing to sign-up to and no behaviour change required in any way.

Community batteries, or neighbourhood batteries (a term we prefer to use) are such an interesting form of energy storage because they have the potential to provide a myriad of benefits to stakeholders. Not only can they improve energy equity issues, they can help decarbonise our society and reduce network congestion.

Attending the launch event, Lachlan Blackhall, Head of the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program said: “It’s amazing what happens when industry, government, researchers and the community work together on a project that has great potential to change the way we think about energy and energy storage. The Fitzroy North Community Battery will unlock the benefits of this form of energy storage to the local residents which is wonderful to see. It also aligns with the socio-techno-economic approach that the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program applies to energy transition issues more broadly.”

The Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program (BSGIP) has played a key role in the Fitzroy North Community Battery project providing expertise that has underpinned and guided the development of the project.

BSGIP is responsible for developing and deploying a tailor-made software package to control how the battery is operated. On the social science front, BSGIP is partnering with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP to develop a framework and guidelines for the development and implementation of neighbourhood batteries as part of the Neighbourhood Battery Initiative.

Leading the Fitzroy North Community Battery is the not-for-profit organisation Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF), which receives core-funded from Yarra City Council. YEF provides sustainability services and advice on energy related matters to homes and businesses. The project will be trialing a new tariff, the first-of-its-kind in Australia.

“The battery will be using a new, innovative community battery tariff which was recently announced by CitiPower,” said Tim Shue, Chief Operating Officer with YEF. “We anticipate that the battery will generate revenue, how much and the breakdown of that income is yet to be seen. YEF plans to release quarterly reports showing the battery’s revenue. With current data, YEF understands that a single community battery system is unlikely to be commercially viable (today), but that a small fleet or network of community batteries could potentially be feasible with the current set of value streams (services) that this Fitzroy North system is going to offer, that is Frequency Control Ancillary Services (FCAS), arbitrage, and tariffs,” said Tim.

What is most eye catching about the battery is the artwork. Created by local Melbourne-based artist, the brightly coloured mural is an Australian-themed homage to the sun, complete with native flora and fauna and hooded pixie-like creatures referred to as ‘Solarquin’ characters.

“The artwork on the battery really transformed my thinking of the battery not just as a piece of technology in a vacuum, but as a socio-technical thing, which is both physical and conceptual, as it will take on its own part in the local community and even has a role in urban renewal and place making. How the community will emotionally connect with the battery is perhaps the most interesting aspect which is yet to play out,” said Tim.

Partners in the Fitzroy North community battery project include the Victoria State Government Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning; the Yarra Energy Foundation; the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program; Citipower, City of Yarra, Pixii, Acacia, Ventia and Polarium.

Find out more about BSGIP’s research into neighbourhood batteries here.