Energy data communities are on the rise from the city to the outback

Image ex Canva used as feature image for Wattwatchers blog post on energy data communities

Many households and small businesses are familiar with using smart energy monitoring to optimise their electricity use, especially those with rooftop solar generating some or all of their own power needs. Now technology is increasingly being used to track, analyse and optimise electricity for whole communities as well as for individual consumers. Wattwatchers is helping with devices, data, expertise and powerful data-driven insights.

USE CASE PROFILE: LOCAL COMMUNITY ENERGY SOLUTIONS

The multiple drivers of the clean energy transition, Net Zero decarbonisation and the electrification of everything are boosting attention on how electricity is being produced, supplied and used at the local community level as well as for individual consumers.

Wattwatchers is supporting growing community-level interest in smart energy monitoring and data. This escalating demand is being driven from a range of sources including local communities themselves, network businesses, public campaigns, grant projects and research programs.

In the regional town of Heyfield, in eastern Victoria’s Gippsland region, about 150 Wattwatchers devices have been installed and continue to operate in support of that community’s exploration of microgrid and other local energy solutions (watch the video).

The two local primary schools also were installed, with specialist ‘energy and education’ software from partner Solar Schools; and for wider community engagement and education, three public display screens have been installed at the local community centre, the state primary school and the town’s post office.

Monitoring data, the analytics it supports and the insights these drive have helped to shape a new decision-support tool called MyTown Energy, designed to inform and enable other communities to take greater control of their energy futures.

This was developed as a key output from the MyTown Microgrid Heyfield, a nearly $2 million grant project co-led by the Heyfield Community Resource Centre (HCRC), the University of Technology Sydney Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS ISF) and Wattwatchers. The MyTown project (2020-2023) was supported by a $1.75 million grant from the Australian Government’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund (RRCRF) – Microgrid Program, plus $100,000 from the Victorian Government’s Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA).

Elsewhere, in the far south-east of NSW, two other RRCRF grant projects are using Wattwatchers deployments in their local communities, including Cobargo, one of the small town’s ravaged by the extreme bushfires in 2019-2020.

Up in Queensland, at the Noosa Lakes Resort on the Sunshine Coast, about 70 townhouses are being monitored using Wattwatchers solutions to enable a groundbreaking, award-winning community solar initiative undertaken by the strata site’s body corporate.

In metropolitan Sydney, a growing number of multi-storey apartment building complexes with strata committees are deploying Wattwatchers to monitor their electricity use and capacity in so-called ‘common property’ areas, which typically cover shared car parking, lifts, grounds, pools and gyms, lighting and the like.

For strata sites, where rooftop solar is often a limited option at best, it’s the electrification push that is driving this need for a ‘common’ understanding of electricity for shared circuits. Body corporates also need to know the capacity of the building’s supply infrastructure to support electrification (i.e. electric vehicle charging and swapping out gas cooking and water heating for electric alternatives).

Through the Wattwatchers-led My Energy Marketplace (MEM) initiative* – which is monitoring a ‘virtual community’ of over 5,100 homes, small businesses, community facilities, strata properties and schools – anonymised real-time and historical/trend datasets are being shared for research and solution development for one or many postcode areas.

As a result, Wattwatchers has assisted community-focused national campaigns like Rewiring Australia and 1 Million Women, and local campaigns like Electrify 2515 and Renewable Illawarra, with energy data as a service access.

Far from the city, in the NSW Outback, two of the most recent ‘energy data communities’ have been established in the small towns of Ivanhoe in the south-west, and Tibooburra in the north-west in ‘Corner Country’, where NSW, Queensland and Australia intersect. 

Wattwatchers devices have been installed in about half of the homes, businesses and community facility sites in Ivanhoe, and the same in Tibooburra, as part of NSW Government-owned network business Essential Energy’s Smart Energy Communities trials. The data is helping Essential Energy to engage with customers and shape plans for future, potentially more-localised energy supplies and services.

CAPTION: Wattwatchers and Essential Energy teams on the town limits of Tibooburra (top left) and Ivanhoe (bottom left) in the NSW Outback. At Ivanhoe the local CWA catered for an afternoon information session (top right), while in Tibooburra the team worked with the local community to host a drive-in movie and BBQ (bottom right).

Smart Energy Communities includes another trial community, the Palm Lake Resort retirement village at Tea Gardens on the NSW Mid-North Coast, which is being integrated into the Essential Energy network (which covers most of regional and remote NSW, about 95% of the state’s land mass). 

A fleet of Wattwatchers devices has been installed at Palm Lake Resort, covering more than a third of the standalone homes and most of the resort’s community facilities (watch Essential Energy’s video).

All up, across the three Smart Energy Communities pilots, over 200 Wattwatchers devices have been installed in 2023, as part of the final rollouts for the multi-year MEM project* (2019-2023), which was supported by up to $2.7 million in grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

As well as being aggregated into community data ‘views’, individual sites in the Smart Energy Communities trials get to use the Wattwatchers MyEnergy app to help them manage their own energy journeys, with or without rooftop solar.

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*ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The My Energy Marketplace project received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program. The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Australian Government, and the Australian Government does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.