Western Australia has flicked the switch on one of Australia’s largest and most sophisticated microgrids, a 5MW mix of solar, wind and battery storage that will have the ability, if required, to power the Mid West town of Kalbarri entirely with renewables.
The Kalbarri microgrid, which combines 1.6MW of wind generation capacity, 1MW of “mum and dad” rooftop solar and 2MWh of battery storage, differs from most in that it has no fossil fuel back-up. That’s because the microgrid, itself, is the back-up – in this case, for the main grid.
Government-owned network company Western Power developed the microgrid in partnership with utility Synergy, the Shire of Northampton and the local community, to address ongoing reliability issues that have plagued the tourist town.
Kalbarri, which has roughly 1,500 residents and attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year, is connected to the state’s South West Interconnected System – Western Australia’s main grid – by a 140km long rural feeder line from Geraldton.
This “infamous” line, as Western Power’s Aaron Fawcett describes it, is “very open to the elements and has given us a lot of trouble in the past;” namely regular and sometimes prolonged outages.
The new microgrid has been connected to the existing network infrastructure to help meet peak demand in the town during tourist season. But its more important role will be to take over the power supply, entirely, when the network connection is, inevitably, interrupted, by storms, wind, or sand.
For this role, the microgrid will use intelligent monitoring equipment to detect a fault in the system and respond to maintain power supply for the town, “islanding” it by drawing energy solely from the battery, the wind farm and feed-in from residential rooftop solar panels.
“The beauty of this particular BESS [battery energy storage] solution and the complexity around the management system of it is that it also detects when the network comes back on line,” says Derrick Quick, the project manager for the microgrid.
“It will then disconnect from the battery and then reconnect to the grid.”
Western Power says the microgrid’s advanced monitoring system will detect even momentary outages, responding in milliseconds to maintain a seemingly uninterrupted power supply.
According to a project fact sheet, the changeover from grid to microgrid supply may trip some household appliances, but the majority should not be impacted and most customers should not even notice either the outage or subsequent reconnection.
Indeed, they might be none the wiser about future disconnections from the network, but for an automated notifcation sent to mobile phones so residents can adjust their power usage while the microgrid is operating, to make the most of the battery charge.
All told, the Kalbarri microgrid is expected to eliminate 80 per cent of outages experienced by the town, and significantly reduce the length of outages depending on how the power is being drawn from the microgrid.
“The Kalbarri microgrid is an important step towards improving power reliability for the local community,” said state energy minister Bill Johnston, who oversees the Labor McGowan government’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap.
“It also paves the way in delivering greater renewable energy solutions across WA, particularly in regional areas, as we move forward in achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”