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Renewable energy technology offers big savings for Canberra's newest suburbs

ACT electricity consumers will receive more reliable, faster, cleaner energy in new suburbs and infill projects like the City to the Lake, say researchers. Microgrids, independent of the network, and battery storage will make supply more resilient in storms and less reliant on the national grid.

Consultants advising the Riverview Group on the best options for water, energy and transport infrastructure at West Belconnen, believe huge savings await consumers from the unfolding energy revolution, as costs for solar panels and batteries drop, and technology improves.

In partnership with the ACT government Riverview will develop 4500 homes at West Belconnen over at least 30 years, and is assessing when new technology should be introduced.

A microgrid, a localised grouping of electricity sources and loads that can feed into the traditional grid, or operate independently, is among options.

E2Designlab energy engineer Toby Roxburgh says in future developers could deliver new suburbs, or densify existing suburbs, for half the price and did not need to spend $20 million on new cables coming from interstate or other suburbs to augment the network.They could do more locally with durable, clean infrastructure and with community support.

E2Designlab is looking at economic cost benefits on options such as whether gas is needed, high efficiency heating off solar, providing induction cook tops rather than gas cook tops which top chefs are using because of their fast response, and whether the whole suburb can be run off solar and what year should battery storage be installed. 


Mr Roxburgh said after Denman Prospect and Molonglo had opted for 3 kW units in the roof, the next step would be investigating if an entire suburb could effectively be solar powered. Suburbs with independent microgrids would be less vulnerable to storms taking down major transmission lines into the suburbs. "The suburb would continue to run, even if the lights went out in the ACT," he said.

"I don't want ActewAGL to have to spend extra millions of dollars running things to West Belconnen, so they can save money and not do it for these subdivisions," Mr Roxburgh said.

"Technology has really unlocked opportunities, it is an amazing time where technology is lining up with cost reduction and efficiency, so productivity in energy is huge. There is a lot of focus overseas on energy productivity and it is something Australia really needs to focus more on.

Mr Roxburgh says technology is fast moving, and a huge energy revolution is underway. "We will look back in 10 years and go wow, that was an amazing phase as to what happened. Now that we are in it, I don't think people realise how big a shake-up it is."

Mr Roxburgh said for many businesses, the ACT government's leadership kept alive the renewables industry while the former Abbott government promoted uncertainty for two years.

Tony Abbott and former treasurer Joe Hockey singled out industries that they didn't like, and overlooked the economic viability of renewable energy.

"Employment base for renewables is a lot larger than coal, 14 per cent of people have solar, so there is a huge part of the electorate that has solar and it seemed odd the [former] prime minister was attacking those people."

In the ACT alone renewable industries could create 100 new jobs over the next 10-20 years in installation, education, and services, whereas the coal industry was becoming automated, creating fewer jobs.

Mr Roxburgh said new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had changed the language, and treated the electorate and businesses with respect, which meant business had significantly picked up for renewable energy companies.