Microgrid feasibility funding awarded to 17 projects in round one of federal scheme

Ditching diesel in remote indigenous communities; powering dairy farms with manure; powering regional industry with commercial microgrids. And more.

The federal government has revealed the successful applicants from the first round of its $50.4 million Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, ranging across 17 projects and five states and territories.

The Fund was established by the Morrison government to support feasibility studies for up to 50 off-grid and fringe-of-grid communities and businesses, to look into whether establishing a microgrid, or upgrading existing off-grid technologies would better meet their electricity supply needs.

The 17 Round One winners have been awarded a total of just under $20 million of grant funding to help project proponents to shore up their plans for remote indigenous communities, farmers, regional towns and commercial and industrial businesses.

“Our regional and remote communities need an affordable energy supply they can rely on to ensure local businesses can grow and thrive which means more jobs and more economic activity,” said deputy prime minister Michael McCormack in a statement on Friday.

“We need to be looking at options that will help lower cost of living pressures on families and businesses in not only the cities but in the regions especially as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Australia’s minister for energy and emissions reduction Angus Taylor said the grants were an important step towards unlocking investment in microgrids and improving energy reliability and affordability in regional Australia.

“Microgrid technology is becoming increasingly cost effective, creating the opportunity for a reliable, low cost, off-grid supply to our regional communities and industries,” he said.

“This funding will enable many communities to realise the potential of innovative technologies or distributed energy resources, like solar and batteries, or reduce their reliance on costly diesel generation.

“Lower cost energy is crucial to creating jobs in regional communities.”

The list of successful projects include four in the Northern Territory, one spanning the NT and Western Australia, three each in W.A., Victoria and Queensland, one spanning Queensland and New South Wales, and two in NSW.

Among the NT projects to win funding is the Power and Water Corporation’s ongoing Microgrids Futures Project (SETuP 2.0), which will assess the feasibility of transitioning another 20 remote indigenous communities from either off-grid diesel generation or a fringe-of-grid connection to more reliable microgrid technologies that support higher levels of renewables.

In W.A., the Regional Power Corporation was one of the grant winners, for its “Modernising microgrids for Aboriginal Western Australians” project.

This project aims to produce a plan for these communities to upgrade to utility standard electricity services which may include transitioning from diesel to solar-diesel hybrid generation, and is also expected to include local Aboriginal procurement and employment.

In Victoria, a Wattwatchers project will assess the potential of a microgrid to improve reliability and deliver economic benefits for the Latrobe Valley community of Heyfield, and there is an “slanging microgrid” project for helping the Yackandandah community reach their target of 100 per cent renewables.

If implemented, a microgrid in the Victorian coal power hub could help avoid costly network upgrades, improve utilisation of existing solar PV and encourage participation by local high energy users such as the timber industry through wood waste bioenergy.

In Queensland, state government-owned utility Yurika Energy was one of the successful applicants for round one funding, to look into the feasibility of developing commercial microgrid models for regional commercial and industrial businesses.

One, at Yarrabah, looks to develop a blueprint for helping fringe of grid towns become self reliant with renewables and storage.

In NSW, the winners included Innovating Energy, which will use the funds to analyse the viability of deploying waste-to-energy bio-gas generator microgrids across 17 dairy farming businesses.

Innovating Energy’s plan is to build a biogas plant on one of the 17 farms, and use the manure from all of them to feed the biogas plant. The electricity produced would then be shared between the dairies and the excess sold to retail customers.

To see a full list of the successful round one applicants, click here.

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