City building rooftops from above

Microgrids and apartment rooftops

I’ve written recently about energy efficiency in a high-density residential context (here, here and here). One specific area of reducing costs/consumption is to install renewable energy generation capacity. For properties that have significant roof-top space, this can be a quite cost effective way of reducing reliance on energy utilities (and increasing energy costs), thus reducing energy bills.

Whereas in a low-density residential environment (e.g. a separated dwelling or home) introducing renewable energy capacity is an option (e.g. installing solar panels or a solar hot water system), this is more difficult to achieve in a medium- to high-density environment.

A forward thinking strata or building manager can take advantage of latent rooftop capacity for solar, but many of the same constraints/barriers outlined in my previous post apply. Community solar projects like Pingala can be attractive in this regard, reducing the overhead for strata managers/owners’ corporations. But still, a major project within an owners’ corporation can often be a slow moving proposition.

At the individual level, an apartment dweller is unlikely to be able to install their own capacity (e.g. a solar panel on their balcony). Even if they could, they most likely wouldn’t achieve the same cost-to-benefit of a larger capacity array shared across all residents.

The current energy market rules and regulations are not well geared to support distributed power generation. Current feed in tariff schemes often create an implicit penalty for over-generation of power, and there is currently no way to easily credit generation across geographically-proximate buildings, or across accounts for a single building owner (e.g. being credited for generation back to the grid in one location against the bill for another building). I am aware of some larger residential building managers who have become the energy provider to their tenants to support the switch to localised energy generation on their premises—but this is a considerable task that only makes sense for larger properties (the manager in question had around 200 units under management).

In the lead-up to the Random Hacks of Kindness Parramatta (RHoK) event we attended last year, Teresa from Empower Parra pointed to some interesting experiments internationally, looking at blockchain-based technology as a way of allowing for such crediting across generators and consumers—such as the Brooklyn Micro-grid. More on this idea, specifically looking at Ethereum, in this presentation by John Lilic: Peer-to-peer energy transaction and control.

At the RHoK event, we spoke to Jonathan Miller from Bit Trade Labs about the potential of applying blockchain technology locally for this purpose. In our discussion we identified three potential areas that blockchain might apply/assist:

  1. Transaction history/audit trail—i.e. validating the transactions that occurred
  2. Acting as the “currency” for transactions—i.e. using Ether (in the case of Ethereum) as the currency in which transactions take place, that can then be converted later into rewards or traditional currency
  3. Acting as the pricing mechanism for trading—e.g. the price of the virtual currency dictates/set the price for traded energy/savings etc.

Empower Parra are looking at how we might be able to increase rooftop solar in medium- to high-residential areas (blocks of 12 apartments+). I think it would be interesting to see if using technologies like blockchain an approach could have an impact here, in the local market. And one ARENA project, Investigating local network charges and local electricity trading is looking at the concept of crediting across related generators+consumers, but as far as I can tell, the study doesn’t include consideration of blockchain technology as part of its remit.

These experiments and research could inform recommendations for rule changes by the AEMC to make this approach more equitable/cost effective for distributed generators.

Are there other ways that we could enable distributed “micro-grid” style energy generation? Are there alternate ways to “monetise” energy generation (or savings for that matter) using blockchain technologies? For example, can we link energy savings to carbon market mechanisms to provide rewards back to participants that reduce consumption? How can we keep the National Energy Market rules and regulations up-to-date with technology solutions such as blockchain?

Feature image credit.

3 thoughts on “Microgrids and apartment rooftops

  1. Pingback: Resource Man’s adventures in household eco-visualisation | Zumio

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