Western Power, the state-owned company that operates the grid in the south-west corner of Western Australia, is looking to take small communities completely off grid so that it can save money on costly network upgrades and extensions.
Western Power this week called a tender for up to ten stand-alone power systems, using solar plus battery storage, with back-up diesel, to cater for small communities around the Ravensthorpe region, around 500kms south east of Perth.
The network operator said it was looking to take small groups of customers – between five and ten – off grid as an alternative to “network replacement or significant refurbishment” at end-of-grid locations. More could follow depending on the success of the pilot program.
“For the pilot, five to 10 customers will be selected to be supplied from a stand-alone power system (SPS) within their property,” the company says in its tender document.
The customers would retain their connection to the main grid, known in WA as the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), pending the outcome of the trial. But the goal of the pilot is to provide a SPS that is technically “reliable, financially sound, modular and acceptable to the customer.”
Western Power wants to trial between five and ten systems using four different size options. They will need to meet all the customer’s needs and minimise lifecycle costs over 20 years.
The proposed systems will be sized between 4.5kW of solar and 20kWh of storage, through to 18kW of solar and 80kWh of storage.
The focus of the trials will be in the Ravensthorpe and Jerramungup areas. Ravensthorpe, a town of just over 500 people, has already been targeted as a potential off-grid town, because of the frequent power failures caused by storm, fire, or falling trees, and the massive cost of maintenance.
In other regional areas of the state, communities and businesses are already disconnecting from the grid, finding solar and battery storage to be a cheaper option. Similar projects are being considered in Queensland and South Australia, where the network operators accept that remote and regional towns might be better served by small renewable-focused micro-grids rather than being connected to the main grid.