Long-delayed plans to build one of Australia’s largest network-connected wind and solar microgrids at the Western Australia resort town of Kalbarri are back on track, with reports the hybrid renewables solution will be switched on in September and officially launched in November.
The Kalbarri microgrid, which was first announced by the previous Liberal state government back in 2016, has evolved to comprise 1.6MW of wind power, 1MW of rooftop solar, and a 4.5MWh battery that will be able to supply 5MW of peak capacity with at least 2MWh of energy storage.
It was proposed for Kalbarri by utility Western Power as a solution to the coastal tourist town’s ongoing grid supply problems, largely the result of its location on the state’s mid-west coast, at the end of 140km long rural feeder line from Geraldton.
This feeder line has seen Kalbarri’s power supply dangerously exposed to the elements, including storms, bushfires, and cyclones – most recently, Cyclone Seroja, which ripped through the state’s mid-west in early April.
According to The Geraldton Guardian, such has been the level of local frustration with regular unscheduled power outages – including five in one day on Tuesday August 11 – that an appeal was made directly to state energy minister Bill Johnston to commit to a more reliable supply.
The paper also reports that days after that appeal, a Western Power spokesperson last week confirmed that the microgrid was back on track to become operational in early September, when a trial would run for 40 business days. All going well, a November launch would follow.
“The microgrid was expected to become operational in June 2021, however this was delayed due to Tropical Cyclone Seroja,” the spokesperson is cited as saying.
“We’ve also had challenges associated with the loss of a key delivery partner and finding an alternative delivery partner that had the necessary skill set to finalise the project.”
This refers to the withdrawal from the project of microgrid specialist Energy Made Clean, which – having won the contract for the Kalbarri project alongside Lendlease in 2018 – went into administration just one year later with its parent company Carnegie Clean Energy.
Energy Made Clean did not survive the maelstrom, and indeed was assigned much of the blame for Carnegie’s woes; Carnegie was resurrected as Carnegie Wave Energy, turning its focus back onto its once highly promising CETO wave generation technology. Lendlease remained to deliver the Kalbarri project.
Despite this and other unforseeable delays, the microgrid project looks to have finally carried through to completion, and remains one of the largest grid-connected examples Australia with the ability to run entirely in renewable mode.
This means that the system, while it will be mainly used to shore up the town’s power supply in combination with the main electricity network, will also be able to draw energy solely from the connected wind farm and feed-in from residential rooftop solar panels.
According to the Western Power spokesperson, had the microgrid been in place for the recent faults noted above, then residents would likely have experienced no outages.
“While incidents on that line or within the microgrid area can and will still take place, the expectation is for fewer or shorter duration outages,” the person said.