Last week, the Tasmania’s Liberal government had pledged to develop a $200,000 solar and battery storage “microgrid” scheme in the state’s south-east, if it was re-elected in the March 3 election.
As we reported on One Step Off The Grid sister site, RenewEconomy, the proposed project would see $150,000 worth of solar panels and battery storage installed across six residential aged-care units in Nubeena, near Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula.
Since then, we have spoken to the local NGO that has been driving the project, Tasman Peninsula Power, and found out why a solar and storage microgrid is so important to their community.
According to Paul Sutton, one of the founders of Tasman Peninsula Power, the reason is pretty straight forward: to deliver more reliable electricity in a way that will benefit the whole community.
“We suffer a lot of outages,” Sutton told One Step. “In the last 12 months we’ve had 15 outages. Some outages being in excess of 24 hours and in extreme cases up to 60 hours for a number of
Indeed, on the very day the microgrid funding was announced, he says, the local network suffered a “glitch”, causing the local bank bank to re-boot equipment, including the ATM, the only one on the Peninsula.
“A group of us thought, well, surely we can do something about this. And we formed Tasman Peninsula Power” – mainly as a vehicle to apply for government grants, he says, to help the community start taking the power back.
“We really just want some security at the end of the feeders.”
And that’s not to say TasNetworks – the government-owned utility in charge of the poles and wires – is not doing its job.
The main culprit behind these outages is falling trees, and occasionally other more serious events, like the 2013 bush fires that ravaged the Tasman Peninsula, destroying – among other things – more than 400 power poles.
As Sutton well knows, you’re never going to get to 100 per cent reliability with electricity, especially not in a remote, fringe-of-grid spot like Nubeena, but with renewable energy and battery storage – or even pumped hydro – you can get pretty close.
With this goal in mind, the group submitted a grant for a feasibility study last year, Sutton said, which won the government’s interest, but ultimately did not deliver a grant.
Later on in the year, however, after consultation with the state minister for infrastructure, another proposal was submitted for the pilot microgrid installation and study.
“So the idea is, the installation is just a pilot for large projects required to provide increased security of supply. The local council was about to build six new residential units, and it seemed like a good synergy.
“The residential units are two-bedroom homes, so we’re only thinking about 4kW system per house and a 7kWh battery,” Sutton said.
“And if that proves a success, we’d like to expand it, and put distributed solar and storage all around.”
And not necessarily just using solar, he added.
“We’re doing solar at the moment because it’s the easiest of the renewables. But the ANU (Australia National University Pumped Hydro study) has identified a number of possible sites on the peninsula for pumped hydro.
“And we’ve got a lot of wind. But building wind farms is a long drawn out process,” Sutton said.
“The other big thing for us, is that this is a community project. We’re one of the lowest socio-economic areas in Australia.
“Prices are going up for people who don’t have solar, who can’t afford it. So this hopefully will help provide security of cost, as well as security of supply, for the whole community.”
As for why the project might appeal to the government, and the government-owned utility TasNetworks, that would mostly boil down to sheer economics.
For one thing, says Sutton, every time there’s a 30 minutes outage, TasNetworks is obliged to mail out cheques of $80 each for all those customers affected.
“So they’re very keen to support (the pilot project),” Sutton said.