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3 in a row: Great Southern trial proves SPS great for country WA

After three years and more than 200 hours of power outages saved across just six properties, stand-alone power systems (SPS) are the front-runner technology to transform power reliability for rural WA.

With remote areas fed by long powerlines, often to just a few customers, and at the mercy of mother nature, power interruptions were an unwelcome reality.

So back in 2016, we decided to try something new.

Six stand-alone power systems were installed on properties across the Great Southern including Lake King, West Lake and Ongerup to provide customers with a more reliable power supply.

Each SPS consists of solar panels, batteries and a back-up generator.

The trial

The trial was looking to establish whether the SPS units would provide more reliable and better quality power than the grid in rural areas.

“There’s been two winners from this trial,” says SPS Program Manager Margot Hammond.

“Firstly, the customers, who have more reliable and better quality power. If a branch blows onto a remote powerline causing a loss of power, it doesn’t affect these customers.

“The power generated on their property has mainly been solar power, meaning they also have a renewable solution.

“The second winner are the taxpayers of WA. Now that this technology has demonstrated the significant benefits for customers, it could be utilised throughout our rural and regional parts of the network as a cost-effective alternative to replacing poles and wires.

“There will need to be regulatory change before that decision would be made, but not having to do that maintenance and upgrade work will save the State millions.”

The results

Three years later, the trial has exceeded all expectations.

  • Customers have each avoided a total of over 200 hours power interruptions over the past three years
  • For customers, outages dropped dramatically, with them avoiding an average 71 hours of outages a year
  • More than 90 per cent of power generated for the SPS’s came from solar, meaning the properties became even more ‘green’
  • Out of 10, customer satisfaction went from less than six pre-trial, to over nine with SPS in place

“The whole project has exceeded our expectations on a number of levels,” says Margot.

“To be able to shift those customers perspectives about Western Power and the service they are receiving so dramatically was really heartening.

“Thanks to those participants taking part in this trial, we now know that SPS’s are a real opportunity for us to create more reliable power for many rural customers in WA and will play a real role in the future of our grid.

What next

The SPS’s installed in the Great Southern will continue to supply these customers for now.

And thanks to the huge success of the trial, we would like to see SPS’s becoming a standard solution in the Western Power energy toolkit for rural customers.

It’s already getting underway, with a new round of 57 SPS units soon being deployed in rural WA, from Mullewa in the north to Bodallin in the east and Cranbrook in the south.

“The new round of deployments will be the largest ever undertaken in Australia, which means we will be able to learn even more about our customer’s experiences and potentially the SPS systems,” says Margot.

“However, given the success of the first trial, we’re really excited to be able to get this solution out to others in rural WA that face similar issues with the power, and know that it will make their lives better.

“Longer-term, we estimate SPS technology could save the WA government hundreds of millions in infrastructure costs in costly upgrades of poles and wires for end of the line customers. So, even though the power is going to our rural customers, all of WA is set to benefit from SPS’s.”