What is a solar microgrid and how does it work?

 

Microgrids powered by renewable energy are forecasted to be the next big thing in Australia for residential electricity supply. Paving the way in Victoria is the small town of Yackandandah who are building three microgrid networks in its quest to become 100% renewable. Once completed the excess energy generated by the solar panels in the town will have the ability to be stored in battery storage systems and shared between neighbours within the town.

What is a solar microgrid?

solar battery storage

A microgrid differs from the main electricity grid in which most households in Australia are connected to, whether they have solar panels or not. A microgrid is a mini electricity grid that is standalone and only supplies electricity to a selective number of properties.

Some microgrids will be completely disconnected from the main electricity grid, while others inclusive of the ones being built in Yackandandah are connected to the main electricity grid having the ability to import and export from the main grid if needed (as backup).

Yackandandah trial solar microgrid

Donna Jones, a local resident of Yackandandah has been included in the microgrid trial which has 14 neighbouring houses set up with solar panel systems and battery storage.

“The cost of electricity, when you’ve got solar panels on the roof, is already reduced because the majority of the power that you’re using, you’re generating yourself.” Ms Jones said.

The houses with solar panels will have the ability to generate their own energy and if any additional electricity is required, they will be able to pull from their neighbours’ surplus, stored electricity.

It means that you’ll be purchasing your energy at a competitive rate, knowing it’s just coming from your neighbour’s roof, rather than from some generator far, far away,” Ms Jones said.

The importance of solar microgrids for the future

As the Australian electricity network continues to age and the need to reduce reliance on the main grid becomes of high importance, microgrids are bringing relief. Microgrids have also been proved to be extremely valuable and useful in remote areas and places of severe weather events, improving electricity supply and quality where access to the main grid supply is difficult.

Want to learn more about how solar power systems and battery storage systems work with the grid?

 

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Understanding Batteries

Off-Grid Systems

For some households a battery system can be of great benefit and minimise a home’s reliance on the grid. However, it’s important to understand for a battery to be useful your solar system needs to be generating excess energy for the battery to store, which you can then use at night or when the sun is not out.

When selecting a battery, you’ll want to invest in a system that is most suited to your home and can drive the best return on investment (ROI). Despite a larger upfront cost, a higher quality battery may significantly increase your ROI.

    Battery systems start from $6,000 and costs can vary greatly based on the following factors:

  1. Cycle Life-Time

    The number of times a battery can fully charge and discharge.

  2. Battery Power (kW)

    How fast it can be charged or discharged.

  3. Storage Capacity (kWh)

    The maximum amount of energy a battery system can store.

  4. Battery Management System (BMS)

    An electronic ‘smart’ system that gathers data and manages the battery ensuring it does not overload or operate outside of its safe functioning zone..

  5. Inverter

    Battery systems require their own inverter if your solar system does not have a hybrid inverter.

  6. 'All-In-One Unit’

    A system which includes the battery, BMS and an inverter all in one unit.

  7. Warranty

    Length of time or cycles the battery system is under guarantee.

  8. Blackout Protection/Backup

    It’s important to note this is not a common feature of a battery system and could cost thousands of dollars to include. Blackout protection not only requires additional components but also a specialised installation and rewiring. For grid-connected homes, the cost for blackout protection can outweigh the benefit.

Additionally, if your purpose for adding battery is to go Off-Grid and become completely independent from the grid you will need to ensure your solar system can generate enough energy to power your home and your battery system is large enough to store this energy. For homes in metro areas going Off-grid is not cost effective and is only recommended for those in remote areas with limited access to the grid. Off-grid solar systems with battery start at approximately $30,000.
 

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