Heyfield community embraces innovative microgrid project

RESIDENTS gathered at the Heyfield Wetlands Information Centre last week to celebrate the official launch of the town’s innovative project to design a more sustainable and equitable local energy model.

During the next three years, hundreds of households, dozens of businesses, and local schools will be actively involved in the study via energy audits, real-time monitoring and control, data sharing and analytics, public displays and teacher-led online activities for students.

Microgrids and other types of local energy systems are now being explored by communities around Australia and internationally, as part of the accelerating transition to a distributed and digital renewable energy future.

Typically, they aim to more closely 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.

MyTown Microgrid is bringing together a community, leading researchers and Australian businesses to find the best way for Heyfield to access more affordable, reliable and cleaner energy.

Receiving $1.8 million in funding from the federal government’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, the project is being led by the Heyfield Community Resource Centre, Wattwatchers Digital Energy and the University of Technology, Sydney.

Additional financial support is being provided to the resource centre by the state government’s Latrobe Valley Authority.

This is Heyfield’s second time around 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 engaged nearly half of Heyfield’s then 700 households and won recognition from the United Nations Association of Australia in 2012.

Julie Bryer from the Heyfield Community Resource Centre said Heyfield residents cared about each other and wanted the best for their children and grandchildren.

“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,” she said.

Trialling a novel strategy, MyTown Microgrid combines a community-led approach with the latest ‘Internet-of-Things’ technology and data science techniques.

Hundreds of energy 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 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,” he said.

“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.”

The project also 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 the University of Technology, Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures said there were 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,” he said.

“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.”