Australian town in study to assess off-grid feasibility

The town of Huntlee in New South Wales, Australia is the subject of a à‚£1.1m study to establish if it can go off-grid.

The Guardian reports that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency has provided $442,000 towards the study to see if the town currently being developed by LWP Property Group with utilities provided by Brookfield’s Flow Systems, could support its estimated 20,000 residents off the grid.

A mix of rooftop solar panels that communicate with a central battery storage facility (backed up by gas) could provide a reliable and less expensive option to the town than the grid.
Huntlee off grid solar power
70% of daily water needs would be met by a new membrane bioreactor recycled water plant, with the remainder coming from rainwater harvesting and other technologies, such as air-to-water generators.

All of this would potentially be supported by geothermal engineering and embedded networks and could be cost-competitive, if not cheaper, than getting electricity from the grid, according to the study.

Last year Australia’s CSIRO and its Energy Networks Association stated that by 2050 a third of Australians could have left the electricity grid as technologies that support off-grid systems, such as solar panels and battery storage, become significantly more competitive.

Advances in technology have seen economists predict that battery storage costs could fall by about 60% in the next 10 years, while solar panels could fall by around a third in that time.

The option of going off-grid looks even more appealing when Australian consumers consider that household electricity prices have increased by 72% over the last decade.

“The intention is that there’s no additional upfront cost to the householder for water and electricity,” says Huntlee’s project director, Stephen Thompson, “as it would be embedded in the land purchase price” (which starts at $152,000).

“We’ve progressed far enough already that we think there is a financial and technological case for it”, Thompson says. “Now the challenge is understanding the regulatory environment about going off-grid in terms of electricity.”

This largely centres on whether there are suitable protections for customers, such as what happens if someone can’t pay their bill, with a private, off-grid energy supplier.

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