Alongside the Heyfield Community Resource Centre and the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, digital energy company Wattwatchers co-leads the $1.9 million Heyfield MyTown Microgrid feasibility study in a Victorian regional town of 2000 people. Deliverables from the project, which runs until mid-2023, include a data-backed decision-making guide for other Australian communities to explore their energy futures.
WATTWATCHERS PROJECT PROFILE: MYTOWN MICROGRID
It’s a big deal for a whole town to consider severing, or at least reducing its reliance on the main electricity grid in a quest for a better energy future.
A future that’s more reliable, affordable and environmentally-friendly, with locals having a real say in how the system works, what it does and the jobs and business opportunities it supports.
Last weekend, December 3-4, just three weeks before Christmas 2022, Heyfield’s Memorial Hall hosted the last major community workshop in the three-year MyTown Microgrid (MTM) project.
Wide-ranging feasibility study
Heyfield MTM is a feasibility study that spans microgrid options, which would involve at least part of the town operating independently of the main grid all or some of the time; and also other localised energy solutions like energy efficiency, coordinated load management, electric vehicle uptake, a community battery, local trading and retailing, small and large-scale renewable generation, and more.
As local community projects go, it’s well resourced, with over $1.7 million in grant funding from the Australian Government through the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund (RRCRF), and a further $100,000 from the Victorian Government’s regional energy transition economic agency, the Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA).
This means the local community – represented by the Heyfield Community Resource Centre (HCRC) and a specially-recruited Community Reference Group (CRG) – is also supported by a paid Community Liaison Officer, Heyfield-based Emma Birchall, and a wide range of external experts from research institutions, consumer advocacy organisations, energy solution providers and other stakeholders.
The data differentiator
The significance of the project extends far beyond the town limits of Heyfield, located in the Wellington Shire in the East Gippsland region, just a half an hour’s drive from the Latrobe Valley, the heartland of Victoria’s now fading brown coal-fired power generation past.
It’s a case study in how to assemble and use energy-related data to study a defined geographic area, such as a town or a suburb, which has included deploying Wattwatchers smart energy monitoring devices at 75 households, about 10% of the total number of homes in the Heyfield area, plus a dozen local businesses, a dairy farm and two schools.
Beyond the project’s purpose-deployed monitoring, which enables detailed modelling and profiling by the researchers as well as deeper immersion in energy for the local participants, other data sources include: a survey for households; network data from the region’s ‘poles and wires’ company AusNet (a project partner); and metering data from the town’s major industry and employer, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH), a major timber manufacturing facility.
The Wattwatchers data provides a highly-granular view of how electricity is being used (and generated at sites with rooftop solar) including any imports from and exports to the grid, total solar production and self-consumption, and major loads such as air-conditioning (heating and cooling), electric resistance or heat pump hot water, and ovens.
Project researchers are now using this data to model bottom-up load profiles for households – taking into account occupancy numbers, solar contribution, space heating and cooling, and hot water – which can then be multiplied by the total number of households to help test future energy options not only for Heyfield, but other communities as well.
Data from Wattwatchers also tracks voltage and power quality, which affect electricity service to consumers; and is aggregated to provide ‘community views’ to reveal trends and patterns, such as daily local demand high and low points, solar contribution and impacts in the local network, and seasonal changes across spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Decision support tool for other communities
As well as supporting the Heyfield community to explore its energy transition options, Heyfield MTM is developing a web-based decision support tool – framed by its energy journey and experience, project lessons learnt, and the extensive data that continues to be collected and analysed – to guide other communities.
Filming for a 10-minute video that profiles Heyfield and the MTM project, as an introduction to the decision support tool and its origins for other communities, also kicked off at last weekend’s business model workshop; with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) providing additional funding for the mini-documentary being filmed by a local production company.
A final report from the Heyfield MTM project is expected to be made public in the second half of 2023. An interim report has already shown that a town-scale microgrid is not currently regarded as being feasible for the Heyfield local community for a range of technical, legal, regulatory and economic reasons; however, a number of alternative local energy solutions continue to be evaluated and will be included in the final report, along with the release of the guide for other communities.
Tim McCoy is Wattwatchers’ Program Manager, with responsibility for the Heyfield MTM project. Tim represented Wattwatchers at the business model workshop in Heyfield on December 3-4. Talk to Tim and our team (firstname.lastname@example.org) about Wattwatchers’ community-level monitoring services, based on the Heyfield approach, and our ‘energy data as a service’ offerings.