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Why microgrids have a perfect home in WA

Keen on ‘make local, buy local’? Microgrids are an energy solution that allows you to do just that, and they’re particularly well suited to WA.

Kalbarri is a tourist dream. White beaches, rocky red gorges, lovely warm weather. It has also, for many years, suffered badly from power outages.

That will soon be a thing of a past when its new microgrid is switched on.

The microgrid will use the town’s locally generated solar power from rooftop panels and a wind farm, plus power from the main grid, backed by a battery that will keep the lights on should there be a fault on the grid feeder line.

“It’s a great example of how a microgrid can really change power realities for a regional town in WA, creating more reliable and better quality power,” says Janica Lukas, Acting Distribution Grid Strategy Manager.

“And, given the microgrid technology is converging with the maturity of renewables, it means microgrids can help us make better and more efficient use of our abundant natural energy resources. It’s an exciting step forward.”

Kalbarri microgrid being transported to site

Image: the microgrid leaving Perth and being transported to Kalbarri.

WA perfect for microgrids

Microgrids, which can work either connected to the main grid system like Kalbarri or be completely islanded, is the kind of technology expected to transform power in Western Australia over the next decade.

Western Australia is particularly well suited to make the most of the benefits of the technology, says James Colbert (Chair) and Paul Buch (Board member) from the International Microgrids Association.

“WA’s wide-open spaces and long, relatively sparse transmission and distribution branches provide a lot of opportunities for microgrids to be successfully adopted and used to provide power to regional communities and remote mining/industrial facilities,” says Buch.

“It also helps that WA enjoys world-leading solar resources and very useful wind resources – both key attributes for renewable and local power generation that can be exploited by microgrids.”

Buch says with multiple working microgrids in WA, including stand-alone power systems (SPS) which are considered nano-microgrids, WA is leading Australia in the adoption of microgrid technology, although several other states have promising projects in play.

Stand-alone Power System

Internationally he says WA is most similar to the microgrid examples of Canada where “there are large, relatively sparsely populated regions of Canada with similar needs and opportunities. There are (of course) significant differences in the weather profile! However, regional Canadian indigenous communities have similar needs to our own and microgrids are being demonstrated to provide a similar opportunity.”

Although many microgrids have been launched through government funding or support, the commercial sector has also jumped on board with large industrial areas like JFK Airport and the Port of Long Beach in the US installing microgrids.

Colbert says the commercial opportunities are obvious for WA also.

“WA is unique in that it has huge mining businesses, and a grid operating across vast distances, which means the economics of microgrids work at many spectrums, from nano scale (SPS), to large mining or even commercial and industrial projects.

“It also has unique policy settings and government support which driving change through SPS and the DER Roadmap, which in essence supports the deployment of microgrids at a significant commercial scale.”

WA’s microgrid future

Lukas says Western Power is actively looking at where else in WA might be suited for microgrids.

As well as benefits for customers who get reliable and high-quality power, she says there are also plenty of benefits for the grid, and by proxy, WA taxpayers.

“It’s a more optimised solution than just replacing the older systems of poles and wires, particularly when we have long rural feeders out to the remote WA areas.

“We’re also envisaging a future where we have fully self-sufficient microgrids that are not reliant on the main network at all.

“This is where the benefits really come in, as you don’t have the costs of replacing the poles and wires along feeder lines, which are always subjected to environmental issues that may result in faults. So as well as giving more reliable and likely more renewable power, the microgrid creates cost efficiencies for the whole network and a far better experience for our customers in regional areas.

“When you have all that sunshine and therefore natural ability to do power generation from almost any location, and when you are trying to optimise the grid for customers and taxpayers like we do at Western Power, the case for microgrids is both very exciting and strong.”