MyTown Microgrid: establishing a community model for sustainable energy

Friday, 26 February, 2021

MyTown Microgrid: establishing a community model for sustainable energy

A microgrid feasibility project in Heyfield, Victoria, is combining smart technologies with intensive local engagement to design a more sustainable and equitable local energy model.

The MyTown Microgrid will see the community, leading researchers and Australian businesses working together to find the best way for the town to access cleaner, more affordable and more reliable energy. Hundreds of households, and dozens of businesses and local schools, will contribute to the three-year study via energy audits, real-time monitoring and control, data sharing and analytics, public displays and teacher-led online activities for students.

Local energy systems such as microgrids are being explored by communities as part of the transition to a distributed and digital renewable energy future. The aim is to match energy supply and demand within a defined area, such as a town or a campus, seeking benefits including lower energy costs as well as cleaner and more reliable energy supplies for residents and businesses.

The project is being led by the Heyfield Community Resource Centre (HCRC), Wattwatchers Digital Energy and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), with $1.8 million in funding from the Commonwealth’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund and additional financial support from the Victorian Government’s Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA).

This is not the first time that Heyfield has put itself on the map when it comes to community-led action for cleaner energy and carbon reduction, having drawn national attention a decade ago with its Sustainable Smart Town ‘Flags’ program, which won recognition from the United Nations Association of Australia in 2012.

“We have a fantastic community that really cares about each other and wants the best for their children and grandchildren,” Julie Bryer from the HCRC said. “This project will make a really big difference and helps build on the sustainability initiatives that we’ve been running here over the last decade.”

Heyfield resident Emma Birchall and installer Brenton Stuart.

A science and technology-based approach

MyTown Microgrid combines a community-led approach with the latest Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology and data science techniques. Hundreds of energy IoT devices will be offered to residents, schools and businesses in the town, in tandem with deep-dive audits to profile how Heyfield uses electricity.

Wattwatchers Program Manager Tim McCoy has noted strong demand from the community to participate in the data collection phase of the trial.

“We’ve seen really strong interest from members of the Heyfield community to engage in the project and their energy future by installing devices in their homes or businesses. The state-of-the-art Wattwatchers devices will gather real-time energy use and generation to help form a bigger picture of Heyfield’s energy needs,” he said.

The project seeks to create the tools and resources to make it easier and faster for other communities around Australia to replicate and understand whether a microgrid makes sense for them, including assessing alternative local energy solution models.

Research lead Dr Scott Dwyer, from UTS’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, said there are many options for communities looking to more sustainable ways of sourcing their energy.

“Navigating a path through these can be extremely challenging for towns like Heyfield. What technologies and partners should they choose? What business model is right for them? How can you ensure the benefits are equitably shared within the community? Faster and easier ways for understanding, designing and implementing microgrid technologies are needed for interested communities, and this project will take us a step closer to achieving this.”

Top image caption: Heyfield’s community is looking to a sustainable energy future. Left to right: Moragh McKay, Julie Bryer, Caroline Trevorrow, Tim McCoy, Emma Birchall, Scott Dwyer and Kristy Walters. Image credit: Kirsty McCallum.

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