Electric Avenue: Pole top batteries

We’re helping our customers to share power in their local communities.

The Electric Avenue pole top battery program involves 40 batteries installed across the United Energy network in Australia’s largest rollout of community-based batteries.

Between 2021 and 2023, they will be installed across Melbourne’s east, south east and the Mornington Peninsula as part of an $11 million program supported by $7 million from United Energy and $4 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

This innovative project provides an opportunity for customers to act locally to participate in a clean energy future.

The batteries provide benefits for local customers, whether they have solar or not, by storing energy from both our network and nearby solar panels or the network, that can then be used locally when it is needed.

In this way, they help sustain 99.99% electricity reliability and support those with rooftop solar to get the most out of their investment. In particular, the batteries will improve the quality and reliability of electricity during peak demand days when everyone is using power – for example on hot summer days.

Each of the 30kW batteries has the capacity to service local homes and businesses with up to two hours of energy (66kWh). When complete, the fleet of batteries will store 1.2MW of power and support up to 5,000 customers. They have an expected life of around 15 years.

Our project partners will include councils, community groups, the local community, energy retailer Simply Energy, local battery supplier, Thycon and ARENA.

How the pole top community batteries work

The batteries will charge at times of the day when there is low electricity demand or when local rooftop solar systems are exporting into our network.

Power from the batteries can then be used later in the day to make more power available when demand is high and solar systems are no longer generating. The peak times when most people use power from our network are between 3pm and 9pm, Monday to Friday.

Each of the 30kW batteries has the capacity to service local homes and businesses with up to two hours of energy (66kWh). Depending on the location, the batteries will directly supply a wide-ranging number of properties which averages to around 125.

When complete, the fleet of 40 batteries will support up to 5,000 customers across the United Energy network and store 1.2MW of power. They have an expected life of around 15 years.

This project follows the successful introduction of two pole-top batteries into the United Energy network in 2020 in the Bayside Battery project.

See the Electric Avenue fact sheet for more information.

Customer benefits

1. Access to energy storage

We know that rooftop solar is becoming increasingly popular and often, the idea of a household battery to go with it is useful to store excess solar energy for the evening. But these batteries still cost more than many people can afford.

By putting a pole-top battery in a community, excess solar can be exported into our network and stored in the local battery. Then potentially, all customers in the community can share this local renewable energy when power is discharged from the battery.

2. Access to local renewable energy

The pole top batteries are a way for all connected customers to use more renewable energy whether they have solar on their roof or not.

3. High power reliability

It’s also an important way for us to make sure all UE customers enjoy high levels of power reliability. When complete, the 40 Electric Avenue batteries will store 1.2MW of power which can support an estimated 5,000 customers. These could be homes or businesses serviced by the battery locally.

Battery locations

We chose locations that would see the most benefit from an improvement in the quality and reliability of energy during peak demand times when everyone is using power – for example on hot days

We also developed criteria to ensure the pole-top batteries have minimal impacts on customers.

In addition to network design factors, we take into consideration:

  • Density: The density of housing around the area, set-backs from the road and distance from the kerbside power poles
  • Visual amenity: The potential for impacts to views, outlooks or just neighbourhood vistas
  • High traffic areas: The distance from areas like school zones or child-care centres.
  • Vegetation: Any trees and shrubbery in the area that can help shield the visual impacts
  • Cumulative impact: Whether there is other infrastructure already in the neighbourhood such as mobile phone towers (in which case adding batteries might create a cumulative effect on visual amenity)
  • Proximity: Location of poles based on the width of the street, proximity to private driveways, or other essential infrastructure like traffic lights.

Stakeholder engagement plan

The Stakeholder Engagement Management Plan sets out our plans, responsibilities, procedures, and approach to communication and community engagement activities.

We are committed to building and maintaining long-term relationships with stakeholders. This includes proactive, inclusive and transparent engagement to achieve the best possible outcomes for the community and to hold ourselves accountable to them.

Please see our Stakeholder Engagement Plan for more information.

Find out more

View project Q&As here.

What impact will this investment have on customer bills?

Our network charges are just one part of customers’ electricity bills that they receive from energy retailers.

There will be no increase on our network charges as a result of this project. In fact, over time, we expect the batteries will help reduce network charges for all customers.

Deploying these batteries in areas where our networks are constrained replaces the need for us to invest in upgrades that across 40 sites, would cost substantially more than what is planned under this project.

This is one way that all UE customers can benefit from the batteries.

What do the batteries look like?

Each battery is two metres high and one metre wide. They are similar in size to other pole-top assets people can see on our power poles.

Our first batteries in Black Rock and Highett are painted a ‘eucalyptus green’ colour to blend in with their surroundings. These batteries will be similar. Some batteries may be a slightly different colour due to supply limitations as a result of COVID-19.

Have locations already been chosen?

We have identified 40 areas within nine council areas where batteries would deliver the benefits we are targeting. The first will be installed in December 2021.

We would like to engage with communities to ensure we are capturing all the criteria appropriate to position the batteries in the best locations to benefit customers and the network.

Will the batteries provide back up power if there is a power outage?

No, this is not how they work.

If there is a power outage, it means a fault on the network has operated a safety switch which prevents more electricity from flowing through the network until the fault is fixed.  So even if there is a battery available, the power would remain out until our crews can make sure it can be safely restored.

Will these batteries make noise?

Like many electrical appliances and infrastructure, the batteries emit a low-level noise. The noise is like a low ‘hum’ – similar to the noise that a refrigerator or freezer makes. It’s one of the reasons why the locations we select prioritise sites where there is an appropriate distance to homes.

As part of our focus on building safety into the design of our infrastructure, we have done a lot of work with the battery manufacturer, Thycon, to make sure this noise is low. It has been fully tested to ensure noise levels are within all relevant guidelines and requirements set by the state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

Each battery will be enclosed by a double-skinned cabinet, which provides insulation against operating noise.

Will these batteries emit EMF?

Like everything with an electrical charge, our pole top batteries do emit low-frequency electromagnetic fields, or EMF. Microwave ovens, mobile phones and our powerlines also send out this form of low-level EMF.

As part of our focus on building safety into the design of our infrastructure, there are two key steps we have taken to ensure the EMF exposure of communities is low:

  1. the batteries are clad in a casing which greatly reduces EMF from being emitted
  2. the batteries will be positioned 3.6 metres high on the power poles which also reduces any exposure to EMF at ground level.

It is important to understand that electromagnetic fields reduce in intensity with distance. The further you are from the source, the lower the intensity of the field. To find out more, please see our factsheet on EMF.

What’s the fire risk with these pole top batteries?

We believe the fire risk is very low. But it is an important area of study that is very well advanced as part of our planning for Electric Avenue.

Our team has already worked closely with Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) and other agencies to develop a comprehensive approach for the batteries. In regular meetings with FRV on our Emergency Response Plan, they have confirmed procedures are already in place for how their crews will respond.

We have also had our designs reviewed by an independent specialist consultant. Recommendations for safety in design for the batteries include:

  • ensuring the components of the battery are contained in fire rated panels
  • installing tilt sensors to disconnect and isolate the battery if the power pole is hit by a vehicle
  • ensuring the sites where batteries are installed are at least 6m away from any homes or buildings.
How do all UE customers get a benefit from this project, even if they aren’t directly serviced by a pole top battery?

Our priority is to sustain reliable, safe and affordable electricity supplies while also building the capability necessary to offer quality services in the rapidly developing energy market.

While up to 5,000 customers will directly benefit from the 40 batteries, we expect this project will also deliver benefits for all UE customers.

By installing these batteries in network constrained areas, we’re able to save money which otherwise might have been spent on upgrades to our networks. The cost of these upgrades in 40 locations would be substantially more than the $7 million planned for this project.

As a fully regulated business, any savings we make are shared with our customers in the form of reduced network tariffs. Savings like these are one of the main ways we have been able to offer reduced network charges in our current regulatory period (2021-2016). United Energy is one of the most efficient networks in the National Electricity Market.

How does the partnership with Simply Energy work?

Simply Energy is our energy retailer partner on this project. They are developing a retail offer, which eligible customers can choose to take part in. Simply Energy will release more information in 2022.