Western Australia (WA) is a state buffeted on all sides by sea or sand; the former is patrolled by great white sharks, the latter by marauding mobs of emus. WA’s capital, Perth, is the most isolated city in the world. This is all to say, WA is used to standing alone, is used to remoteness, and so it is no surprise that it is the perfect place for stand-alone power systems (SPS).
SPS are revolutionising WA’s energy landscape, and that is not simply because of the fact that due to Covid-19 we should all be standing alone anyway. Recently, the completion of a three-year trial to test the viability of SPS resulted in a resounding success, and regulators are heeding said results. WA’s parliament passed a reform bill last week giving more support for stand-alone power and storage systems.
Ros and Bernie Giles, farmers from Dunn Rock, participated in Western Power’s SPS trial and though they entered the three-year program with a curious scepticism, they existed with delight and a now permanent SPS on their 2000-hectare property.
For remote Western Australians, and as I established earlier, they’re remote almost by definition, vulnerability to power outages comes with the territory. But now, for the Giles’s at least, there are only “the very occasional quick hiccups.”
“We’ve forgotten what power outages are,” says Ros, “Being involved in this trial has been really positive for us and we are always talking to those in our area about how good it is to have a stand-alone power system.” Of course, considering Dunn Rock has a population of 11, Ros isn’t talking to that many people, but that’s beside the point.
The Giles’s were one of six participants in the trial which sought to establish the efficacy of SPS over unreliable and vulnerable powerlines stretching unfathomable distances across the state. The trial proved that solar panels in tandem with a battery and a back-up generator are the perfect solution to many a Western Australian’s problems.
“This has worked so well for us,” says Ros. “All our neighbours are watching with interest and asking how the trial was going. I can’t see why this wouldn’t work for others and give everyone, particularly in rural areas, better power supply.”
Over the three year Great Southern trial, 90% of the total power used by the Giles’s was sourced from their solar panels.
The Giles’s Are Remote, But Not Alone
WA orchardists Jeff and Kerry Murray are experiencing a similar freedom after taking themselves off-grid with rooftop solar PV and Redflow batteries. The threat of bushfires and blackouts to the Murray’s energy security is no longer. “The bottom line is that this is a good business decision,” said Jeff Murray. “We will get back our money in eight to 10 years at the current price of power. As the price of energy goes up, we’ll pay it back even quicker.”
SPS’s are a no-brainer,” said Energy Networks Australia (ENA) CEO Andrew Dillon, whose organisation recently found that SPS are 15 times more reliable and safer than traditional powerlines. “There is clear evidence of significant potential benefits to customers associated with the deployment of these units,” continued Dillon. “Stand-alone power systems have shown they can deliver cheaper and more reliable power to customers, especially in remote areas.
Here’s a remote stat for you: Western Power estimates that more than 50% of all the overhead distribution network in WA is dedicated to servicing around 3% fo the population. This is simply not an effective allocation, especially seeing as those at the end of the line are exactly as reliant upon the network as they are susceptible to it.
Not Just For the Farmers
SPS then, is perfectly tailored to WA. Western Power’s SPS Program Manager, Margot Hammond, says thousands more candidate sites in WA have been identified where customers could benefit from SPS. “We have a clear plan of how we can use SPS to improve our future grid over the coming decades for many of our country customers,” said Hammond.
“SPS has value for other customers as well, not just those in rural areas. As SPS takes the pressure off having to maintain poles and lines at the end of a spur, we expect to save many millions in infrastructure costs, which means WA taxpayers are saving int he long run.”
Well, What Now?
Perhaps most encouraging news for the average punter is amendments to the bill mentioned at the top to facilitate the use of stand-alone power systems (SPS) and energy storage devices in the Northwest WA network. These new SPS systems, supported by solar, are not adequately incorporated into the current regulatory framework built to support large-scale generators connected to the network. Similarly, energy storage is integral to the continued uptake of rooftop solar PV. Both SPS and energy storage users can now expect substantial benefits from this bill.
Meanwhile, the success of Western Power’s trial has meant that a more extensive roll-out of SPS units is occurring, indeed, 57 units are being installed on properties throughout the state, and 100 more have already been announced.
Another off-grid program in Western Australia is run by another government-owned regional utility Horizon Power, which became the first utility in Australia to remove parts of its overhead network and replace it with an off-grid renewable energy power solution. Horizon is installing 17 stand-alone power systems on fringe-of-grid properties east of Esperance, replacing 64 kilometres of unreliable poles and wires.