Horizon Power-backed international body to champion microgrids


Western Australia is building on its experience as leader in the deployment of decentralised and stand-alone power systems, with the establishment of the Perth-based International Microgrid Association (IMA).

The not-for-profit organisation counts W.A. state-owned utility Horizon Power as a founding member, and says its growing number so far includes Cisco, Schneider Electric, Telstra, UWA, Woodside and ATCO Gas.

IMA chair Terry Mohn said the focus of the body was to facilitate cross-sector collaboration, investment and acceleration of innovative, cost effective microgrid technologies and capabilities across the world.

“In doing this, our aim is to underscore the reliability, resilience, security and inter-operability of these modern energy systems,” he said.

Western Australia, with its huge land area and heavily subsidised grid, is well suited to host the organisation in Australia, and Horizon – with its 37 operational microgrids across the state – makes a natural leader for the group.

(A media statement from the IMA has claimed the Association as a world first, but similar organisations appear to exist in the US – to name one example – including the International District Energy Association (IDEA), and the Microgrid Resources Coalition (MRC).)

The IMA is a first of its kind for Australia, which – with its notoriously far-flung and outdated pole-and-wire, centralised fossil fuel energy-based electricity networks – stands to benefit hugely from the widespread adoption of renewable microgrids.

Just this week, Australia’s principal energy rule-maker unveiled landmark changes that are expected to pave the way for grid operators to sever network ties to remote customers, and deliver stand-alone power systems based around solar and batteries.

As Giles Parkinson reported here, a review and recommendations from the Australian Energy Market Commission found replacing hundreds – or even thousands – of kilometres of poles and wires with stand alone systems featuring a mixture of solar, batteries and diesel back-up would be both cheaper and cleaner.

And, the AEMC says, it would also be safer and more reliable, because of the reduced impact of storms, bushfires, floods and the like.

Horizon Power had already come to this conclusion on its own, though, after bush fires destroyed more than 320 power poles and hundreds of kilometres of power lines on its network in November 2015.

At the time, Horizon managing director Frank Tudor said that, for some of the more susceptible parts of the network, taking them off the grid – using systems owned and operated by Horizon for the same cost as power from the grid – made better sense, on a a number of levels, than reconnecting them.

The success of those projects prompted the utility to roll out more of the solar, diesel and battery systems in other remote areas of the state where it would otherwise have had to replace ageing network infrastructure.

“It’s about deploying batteries, solar panels with back-up diesel and using it in a clever combination so they get access to reliable electricity which is every bit as good as what we could provide in a network solution,” Tudor had said.

But for Horizon – and its state government owner – the shift to microgrids is perhaps first and foremost an economic strategy, to chip away at monstrous fossil fuel subsidies that guarantee regional customers pay no more than the 26c/kWh charged in Perth.

In the case of the mid-west gold mining town of Meekatharra, as we reported here earlier this week, the addition of 450kW of solar capacity to the town’s 1.8MW diesel generation plant has cut the use of diesel by around 20 per cent, even without battery storage.

At the more ambitious end of the scale, Horizon is also working on an ambitious microgrid for the coastal Pilbara town of Onslow, to underpin the massive Wheatstone LNG project owned by Chevron.

This project will combine a new 5.25MW gas-fired power plant, distributed and utility-scale solar, and battery storage, each element of which is being contributed to financially by Chevron.

“Western Australia, through Horizon Power’s world-leading distributed energy resources projects and trials, is leading the international microgrid sector, making WA an obvious choice for the IMA’s base,” said Mohn.

“Through education, awareness, and advocacy, we can help manage the impacts on global energy markets as transformation of the electric power system occurs, and assist people, organisations and governments to gain access to this renewable, reliable, safe, affordable power solution.”

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