Western Power to roll out 60 regional solar, storage, diesel hybrids

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After trailing stand-alone power systems (SPS) at six farms in regional Western Australia, Western Power is expanding the program ten-fold. It has launched a tender for up to 60 SPS systems within the South West Interconnected Network (SWIS).

The locations, farm homesteads at the edge of or on thinly connected parts of the SWIS, were due to have “significant maintenance works.” Western Power notes that “hundreds of kilometres” of powerlines were due for upgrade. Some single properties are served by a power line stretching several kilometres. Given this, and the falling costs of solar PV, the SPS systems can likely be provided at a competitive cost structure when compared to grid upgrades and ongoing maintenance.

The sites for the SPS trial expansion have been selected on the basis of the age and condition of the grid connection, the network topography, and the properties’ electricity use profile, Western Power reports.

The results from the initial six farms, located in Ravensthorpe in the Great Southern region of WA, demonstrate that solar and storage can provide cleaner and more reliable power supply to rural properties than a skinny grid. The program was launched in June 2016.

On average across the six sites, there were 65 hours of outages avoided in its first year, and a whopping 92% of the properties’ power supply could be met by solar PV – buffered by battery storage.

Without providing full technical details, Western Power reports the battery is sized to provide two days’ supply of electricity. If beyond that, cloudy conditions prevail, then the diesel genset kicks in.

In a promotional video featuring the trial, Western Power says the SPS program is: “Enabling us to build a smarter, more cost-effective network.”

In announcing the expansion of the program, WA Energy Minister Ben Wyatt noted that WA SPS supply and installation will provide opportunities for businesses in the state.

“Delivering efficient, safe and reliable power to the rural and remote parts of Western Australia is challenging,” said Wyatt in a statement. “Long stretches of power lines are at the mercy of wind, rain, vegetation, lightning and bushfires. As a Government-owned utility, Western Power is actively seeking ways to improve reliability for all customers.

Wyatt has instructed the Public Utilities Office to look at regulatory changes required to increase the rollout of SPS in the state.

Ravensthorpe farmers Ros and Birney Giles feature in the SPS program promotional video. “Lots of outages was the biggest hassle,” said Ros when describing their farm’s power supply prior to the SPS being installed.

“It’s time for that type of innovation,” added Birney Giles. “Batteries are getting so good and I think the cost is going to start coming down. I think it’s quite an exciting time in particular for solar.”

This article was amended on 16/3/2018 to reflect that the SPS initiative is from Western Power, not Horizon Power – WA’s regional and remote power provider.