REALM study show how businesses can get more value out of solar

In a press release by Schneider Electric, the Renewable Energy and Load Management (REALM) study funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, released by the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) in partnership with the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity (A2EP), finds that businesses can deliver flexibility in their electricity demand to match variable renewable energy – with the right price signals.

Schneider Electric, IKEA, Woolworths, nbn, Goodman Fielder, Teys and V&C Foods participated in site feasibility studies to test the scope to increase the flexibility of their electricity usage by integrating renewable energy, energy efficiency (focused on reducing peak demand), existing on-site storage and batteries.

Jonathan Jutsen from A2EP said: “We have known for some time that businesses have a lot more potential for varying their loads than the electricity supply industry and regulators understand.  We wanted to demonstrate that by truly integrating customers into the grid, we can reduce the costs for both energy users and the electricity supply system.”

The IKEA Tempe (Sydney) store has a 1.8 megalitre cold water tank which is used for the cooling system.  Upgrading the software that controls the chillers, power can be used from the 990 kilowatt rooftop solar array to push the temperature down towards the bottom of its operating range and then released to switch off chillers at other times when demand or prices are high.

Installing software to combine the solar system with the cold water tank would deliver a payback in less than a year. An additional 200 kilowatt of solar can be installed cost-effectively because more power can be used on-site instead of being exported to the grid at low-prices.

Globally, IKEA has committed to using 100 per cent Renewable energy by 2030, and this UTS/ARENA research project has helped IKEA Australia to identify the gains that can be achieved with a small investment in more renewables.

There are a range of other options for storage and flexibility that can be developed in the same way such as refrigeration, hot water systems, pre-processing materials (e.g. water pumping) and discretionary loads (e.g. staff facilities).

Better data systems, onsite storage and generation technologies and automated demand control system allow businesses to pro-actively manage demand – and deliver flexibility at a lower cost than centralised solutions such as Snowy 2.0.

At Schneider Electric’s manufacturing site in Adelaide, an opportunity for a “prosumer micro-grid” with a 900kw solar system, on-site battery, cold storage tank augmentation, and energy efficiency program was identified. Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Microgrid management system was implemented to optimise energy bills plus earn back revenue by bidding power into the energy market.

Brian Morris, VP Energy Solutions at Schneider Electric says “Being a leading energy and technology business we have combined our knowledge and solutions to support our desire to become carbon neutral across our own offices and manufacturing locations.”

nbn were another leading business that participated in the REALM project:

Martin Williams, Manager Environment and Sustainability at nbn said: “nbn, by participating in the REALM project, has gained a clearer understanding of the demand response opportunities using our substantial back up power systems at our major technical facilities.  Coupled with our associated energy efficiency and solar PV programs, the project has identified further opportunities to reduce our impact on the environment”.

He continues “Microgrids are reshaping the energy landscape. Cheaper and greener, they yield massive productivity changes. We are pleased be able to help lead the way in this space and provide a case study to demonstrate to industry the opportunity for reducing energy costs.”

The study found there were three major changes needed to tap into the low-cost demand flexibility that can be delivered by businesses:

  • Electricity supply agreements and tariffs provide little motivation and need to be remodelled to provide genuine, focussed incentives for consumers;
  • Business and market capacity must be developed to improve awareness of opportunities for demand flexibility and provide standardised, off-the-shelf packages to make it easy for businesses;
  • Energy market reform, such as the rule change to allow for bidding into wholesale markets, can open up revenue streams for demand flexibility.

“We have found there are opportunities to get more value out of renewable energy by storing and using energy in on-site cooling and heating systems which are found in many Australian businesses,” said ISF research principal Chris Briggs.

“The next step is to implement pilots with electricity retailers and networks to trial pricing and incentives that can unlock low-cost demand flexibility and the value to other energy users.  REALM can help networks reduce peak demand and avoid capital expenditure, extend the lifetime of aging assets by reducing usage, and help manage voltage fluctuations by matching demand and supply,” Briggs said.

Based on the results of the REALM pilot, A2EP and ISF are organising a larger scale pilot with network companies and retailers.