People really like community batteries, but may be unaware they primarily benefit network operators

A recent survey finds many people want a community battery in their neighbourhood, but not whether they understand the energy market community batteries must operate in.

A Melbourne survey has revealed popular support for community batteries, with more than 80% of respondents saying they are “strongly supportive” of a shared battery being installed in their neighbourhood.

The Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF) recently conducted a survey to coincide with a four-month partnership with the Yarra Trams Community Partnership Program for 2023 which saw a community battery-themed tram join Melbourne’s tram network.

Community batteries have shifted into the political spotlight, with the introduction and beefing up of federal government and state subsidies incentivising their rollout.

Arena has also reported huge popular interest in the energy storage solution, reporting in November that it received 140 applications for its grant scheme seeking funding of $1.3 billion– more than 10 times the $120 million available under the program’s first round of funding.

However, whilst the results of the YEF survey reflect the community’s sense of good will and a desire for sharing energy resources, some energy experts are concerned this is not how community batteries are playing out.

“It is disturbing that many people are being misled because the reality is often very different from the concept,” says Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT.

Pears is concerned network operators are using subsidiary companies - which many people don’t even realise are subsidiaries - to ‘help’ communities set up community batteries that primarily profit the network.  

“At present community batteries are a big opportunity for network operators that will be subsidised by well-intentioned communities and government subsidies,”says Pears.

“This situation does not reflect the fundamental societal benefits of community batteries, but it does reflect the seriously distorted design of our energy markets.”

Although community batteries have to operate in an energy market that is “anti-community and does not adequately value consumer and community action”, the YEF survey does provide a glimpse into people’s perception and understanding of community batteries.

Over 50% of the 200 respondents claimed they already knew the basics of how a community battery works – potentially the result of increased media coverage in recent months as community batteries begin to roll out across the city.

The survey found there was virtually unanimous support for community batteries, with 96% of respondents replying they were either“strongly supportive” or “somewhat supportive” of a community battery being installed in their neighbourhood.

However, consumers and communities will need significantly more information about how community batteries operate in the energy market to be fully informed about their benefits and limitations.

“Community support for batteries is critical for establishing social license to install them,” Yarra Energy Foundation concluded.

“Greater awareness and knowledge are also likely to significantly reduce the risk of negative responses and resistance, while cultivating a more culturally accepting and supportive environment for future projects.”

A wide variety of responses were given to how community batteries can benefit, but “supporting the transition to clean energy” was the most important, with 67% of participants rating it as their highest priority.

Similarly, more than 55% of respondents indicated they had no concerns regarding the installation of a community battery in their neighbourhood.

If there were concerns, these mainly centred around equal access for apartment dwellers and renters or the“too-slow” pace of the rollout of shared energy storage systems.

An earlier version of this article was published first on One Step off the Grid. You can read it here.

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