Australians Off The Grid

Zen Energy represents a new and unique model of sustainable power generation, storage, delivery and retailing in Australia.
Published: Wed 27 Jan 2016

A South Australian firm has launched the country's first 100% renewable energy utility company, called Zen Energy. The company is set to be a real game changer for the continent’s energy sector, says  company chairperson, Professor Ross Garnaut.

He says that he is surprised that the more established energy companies have not yet snapped up the opportunities made available by renewable energy sources and technologies.  

Australia's first "community energy provider

For years, Zen Energy has been putting battery units in people's homes but chief executive Richard Turner plans to step it up a notch- he wants to take entire communities off the grid — from social housing stock, to apartment buildings and regional communities. The company uses a combination of solar power generation, battery storage, and localised energy grids to create self-sustained communities that will buy back the power generated.

Zen Energy plans to create localised energy grids that can provide whole communities with renewable power around the clock. The microgrids will generate their own electricity using solar photovoltaic systems and other renewable sources, while batteries will be used to store the energy for distribution. The power generated will be sold back to the community at what Zen says will be significantly less than current costs."We're looking at a spot in the market very soon where we're going to be almost half the cost of the grid," he said.

Professor Garnaut claims the move will enable households, businesses and entire communities to "become genuinely self-powered, completely or substantially depending on their circumstances and preference".

"All Australians, no matter where they live, should have the opportunity to harness affordable and clean renewable energy."

The company has its sights initially set on greenfield developments not yet connected to the electricity grid, and regional communities where a grid connection can be uneconomical.

But the technology could also be used to create microgrids for other multi-dwelling developments, such as existing apartment buildings, aged-care facilities and even whole communities.

Disrupting the central Australian grid

This is the latest disruption in an energy revolution that is sweeping across Australia which could see the demise of traditional business models, held by the current central power grid operator.

With one of the highest rates of rooftop solar uptake in the world, chief executive of the Energy Suppliers Association of Australia, Matthew Warren, said Australia is conducting an experiment with no idea of the possible result. [Australian Households To Lead the Energy Revolution]. Already 1.4 million Australian households power their homes with solar. Solar panels, in addition to battery storage systems, have been touted as a great way for households to reduce their reliance on the electricity grid and dramatically cut their power bills.

A recent Climate Council report predicted that household solar panel systems with added battery storage will become the most economical solution to providing electricity as grid electricity prices rise.

The report, Powerful Potential: Battery Storage for Renewable Energy and Electric Cars, also predicts that half of all Australian households will adopt solar systems with battery storage.

And it’s not just solar owners that can benefit from battery storage systems. The report points out that households without solar may be able to use battery systems to take advantage of their own electricity retailer's pricing structure – drawing electricity from the grid when prices are low and using their battery for power during peak pricing.

"Change is the new normal in this sector, and really no one knows where that change ends," says Mr Warren.

He points out that councils across Australia, from Byron Bay to West Australia, local governments are looking to ditch their dependence on the expensive central grid, and generate, store and use their own renewable energy.

Further reading

Climate Council-Powerful Potential: Battery Storage for Renewable Energy and Electric Cars