Western Australia network operator Horizon Power has announced plans to take more of its remote regional customers off grid, offering stand-alone solar plus battery storage systems and back-up diesel generators as a cheaper and more reliable alternative to traditional poles and wires.
The company said on Thursday that it was working with various customers and suppliers to roll out the hybrid renewable micro-grid systems in Exmouth, on the North West Cape, as well as in the Fitzgerald National Park outside of Hopetoun.
The new projects follow the success of five solar and storage systems installed at farms in Esperance last year, after bush fires destroyed more than 320 power poles and hundreds of kilometres of power lines on Horizon’s 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 pilot projects has now 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 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 said in comments last week.
“We are looking at deploying it in Exmouth, we’re also looking at deploying it at the Fitzgerald National Park outside of Hopetoun and we’re working with various customers and suppliers to be able to do that,” Mr Tudor said.
Horizon Power also has big plans for the north-west community of Onslow, as we reported in October last year, with the construction of one of the country’s largest solar and storage-based microgrids.
The $100 million-plus project will bring together a new 5.25MW gas-fired power plant with a mix of distributed and utility-scale solar, to be coupled with battery storage – with the goal of having it up and running by early 2018.
“This will be Australia’s largest distributed energy microgrid, creating a new era of energy competition and efficiency for households and businesses,” said WA Energy Minister and Treasurer Mike Nahan, in a statement announcing the project in October.
According to Tudor, the project was also initiated to meet increased demand, since large resource developments have quadrupled the size of the town.
“The intention there is to actually have more than 50 per cent of the energy produced by the customers themselves through them contributing solar panels, batteries and any number of devices they can put in at a household level,” he said.
Elsewhere in the state, a separate $4 million trial by Western Power has installed six stand-alone solar and battery storage power systems at six different properties located around Ravensthorpe, Lake King and Ongerup.
Over the course of the 12 month pilot, participating households will document the experience of having their electricity supplied via the stand-alone system rather than via the traditional poles and wires.
Perth-based Energy Made Clean – a specialist in stand-alone power and battery storage systems that has since been snapped up by fellow WA company Carnegie Clean Energy – constructed the systems, including an app that will allow customers to view their power consumption and system performance in real time.
Energy Made Clean has already successfully proven the value of stand-alone, off-grid solar and storage in the state’s remote regions, not just in terms of saving networks money, but as a defence against increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions and their impact on remote locations.
In March 2015, when a category three cyclone tore through the WA towns of Exmouth, Coral Bay and Carnarvon, leaving power blackouts and water shortages in its wake, an EMC-designed and built solar-hybrid mini grid on the nearby Thevenard Island, continued running throughout, on stored battery power.
The 325kW system was launched in December 2014, in an effort to reduce the Mackeral Islands Tourist Resort’s reliance on diesel. It has since achieved renewable penetration of more than 90 per cent.
The mini grid (pictured below) consists of 1,200 solar panels and 512 lithium ion batteries (640kWh), and supplies the power needs of the eco-tourism resort in WA’s northwest Pilbara Coastal region, 22km offshore from the town of Onslow.