One of the recurrent themes of this blog is that climate policies all over the world, seem spur of the moment, confused contradictory, and hard to trace. I’ve argued that this partly derives from the existential crisis posed by climate change. Climate change is psychologically and sociologically disorienting at the same time.

Anyway, whether the theory is correct or not, this is the story of the confusions around the Australian Labor Party’s community battery ‘policy’ and whether it exists or not.

There are numerous stories indicating that Labor supports community batteries which have appeared in the last six days. For example:

Should it win the election, Labor says it will spend over $200m to install 400 community batteries across the country to service 100,000 households. Labor says this will help encourage households to invest in solar panels.

Kurmelovs Community batteries: what are they, and how could they help Australian energy consumers? The Guardian 5 April 2021

Federal Labor has unveiled some of its first new policies designed to slash greenhouse gas emissions, promising to slash federal taxes for electric vehicles and committing to build hundreds of community batteries.

A proposed $200 million ‘Power to the People’ initiative would see a federal Labor government fund the installation of up to 400 medium-scale batteries distributed across the grid, allowing households to enjoy the benefits of battery storage through a community shared battery.

Labor estimates that around 100,000 households could benefit from the deployment of community batteries.

Mazengarb Federal Labor promises to slash taxes for electric vehicles, build community batteries. RenewEconomy, 30 March 2021

Anthony Albanese will promise a Labor government would deliver a discount to cut the cost of electric cars and install community batteries, in modest initiatives costing $400 million over several years….

The announcement, to be made Wednesday, comes as Labor debates its platform at a “virtual” national conference involving some 400 participants.

Gratten Labor proposes discounts for electric cars and ‘community batteries’ to store solar power. The Conversation, 30 March 2021

The opposition is also vowing to spend an additional $200 million on 400 medium-sized batteries in suburbs and towns.

The so-called “community batteries”, which are about the size of a large car, are aimed at cutting power prices for up to 100,000 homes and taking better advantage of household solar.

About 20 per cent of households have rooftop solar panels – a figure that’s world leading.

But far fewer homes, closer to one in 60, have battery storage, which means during peak periods in the evening, or when the sun doesn’t shine, they are reliant on the grid.

The “community batteries” would connect somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred households.

They would charge during the day and be drawn down during the night, saving households the costs of battery installation and maintenance.

Glenday & Doran Labor promises cheaper electric cars and cash for solar powered batteries, if it wins next federal election. ABC 31 March 2021 ??

So we can see that some of this is a reporting of the announcement that an announcement would be made. At the moment, I am not sure if a formal announcement of the policy was made, although there is some hint it might be. It is, for example, not in the National Platform released after the recent conference, which was after the announcement of the announcement. Although that Platform does say:

Community and publicly-owned energy systems will play a critical role in the modernisation of Australia’s energy system, including in regional and remote communities. Labor will support the ongoing development and deployment of community and publicly-owned energy systems, ensuring all Australians can access the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy.

ALP National Platform: 34

This paragraph is just previous to the announcement that:

Labor recognises and supports the critical role that gas plays in the Australian economy. Labor recognises that gas has an important role to play in achieving Labor’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.

ALP National Platform: 34

Mixed messages?

Anyway, google advanced search reveals no mention of “community batteries” or “community battery” and very little on batteries or battery on the ALP website. The conference blog does not mention this policy. However, an account of the closing speech by Anthony Albanese, the parliamentary leader of the ALP does say:

If you want a world-leading plan to build community batteries for households and reduce electricity costs for families, Labor is on your side.

Albanese Lighting the Road Ahead. 31 March

I then looked at Anthony Albanese’s website. Over the last year Mr. Alabanese was remarkably quiet about batteries other than about manufacture. However, a press conference does have these comments which is the best evidence the reports quoted above are not entirely fantasy.

Albanese: Today, also, we’re announcing our Power to the People Plan. This is a plan for community batteries. We know that Australia has the highest take-up in the world of putting solar panels on roofs. Australians are literally voting with their own roofs when it comes to taking action, which reduces the costs of energy for families, but also is, of course, good for our environment. But we know also that a constraint is being able to afford to put a battery on individual homes. We know also that batteries will make an enormous difference in terms of dealing with the issues that the take-up of renewables have had for reliability of the grid. By having community batteries, that will be a big step to overcoming that and to improving the functionality of the grid, as well as making it affordable for people to participate and to ensure that, at the time that they’re getting their energy through the solar panels, that it’s stored and used when it’s needed. So this is a practical plan. A practical plan for both community batteries and a practical plan for electric vehicles. It’s just our first step when it comes to these strategies. And I’d ask Chris Bowen to make some further comments before Ed Husic and then we’ll hear from someone from the EV sector….

Chris Bowen:…. But one in 60 has a battery because they’re very expensive. Now, that’s bad for the families because they have to draw on the grid at night in particular or when the sun’s not shining, and pay electricity bills for that. And it’s also providing a lot of pressure on the grid as solar feeds in during the day, really pumping the system of electricity, but we need those power stations at night. So those who care about grid reliability know that we have to get many more batteries. Now, there’s a role for batteries of the household, there’s a role for grid-wide batteries like the one in South Australia. But more and more, there’s a role for community batteries. Neighbourhoods coming together to share their power, feeding in from their solar panels to the battery during the day and drawing off it at night. So we will fund 400 batteries around the country where communities can come together, pay a very small fee of a few dollars a week to participate in that community battery, which will lower their energy costs and also reduce their emissions. And importantly, it will also be possible for people who can’t have solar panels for whatever reason. They might be renters and the landlord hasn’t put solar panels on, they might live in apartments and not be able to put solar panels on, they’ll also be able to participate in the scheme. And while they won’t feed in during the day, they’ll be able to draw out at night, providing the opportunity of renewable energy to more Australians. So these are the practical measures that we’re announcing today.

Ed Husic:… And particularly focused at the beginning on battery manufacturing as well, because a lot of people here have been dedicating themselves to that issue about how do we actually bring all of that together, manufacture the batteries and build from that moving forward? So it’s really big in that respect.

Sydney Doorstop Interview 31 March 2021

I suspect most of the journalism is based on this, press conference. At the moment I cannot find any details for this Power to the People plan, and it is surprising that it is not mentioned in the Party Platform. A last minute promise?

In any case without knowing the size of the batteries, the number of houses that would be connected to each battery, and where the stored energy would come from, we know very little about how effective the plan would be.

Previous to the last election, Albanese remarked:

People in the Inner West know that we need a Labor Government to get our nation’s climate change and energy policies back on track.

Through Labor’s plan residents in Grayndler will have assistance to slash their power bills and help in the national effort to reduce emissions, by installing household batteries in their homes.

Our Household Battery Program will provide a $2,000 rebate for 100,000 households on incomes of less than $180,000 per year to purchase and install battery systems, as well as low-cost loans for households.

Our target of 1 million new batteries to be installed by 2025 would triple the number of battery systems in Australian households compared to today.

Albanese Labor’s Renewable Energy Plan To Turbo Charge Inner West Sustainability, 23 November 2018

No idea whether this still stands or not, or whether it has been discarded…

Perhaps of some relevance, Albanese also has a section of his website which states:

Where Anthony Stands

Find out Anthony’s position on what matters to you:

The Economy

Jobs and the Future of Work

Nation Building Infrastructure

Child CareEducation

Nothing about Climate or Energy, although to be fair the nation building infrastructure says:

Labor will invest in our energy grid, bringing the power of renewables to consumers and industry. Rewiring the Nation will enable us to power our manufacturing sector with cleaner energy.

There is nothing about this in the Platform either. Not of grids nor of “Rewiring the Nation”.

This is information mess in action. Perhaps the real announcement and details have yet to come and this was just a warm up? Or perhaps they got the headlines without making any formal promises…. Perhaps things shift from day to day, and these are aspirations not policies?