The federal government has announced more than $19 million in grant funding for 17 microgrid projects looking to better meet the electricity supply needs of regional and remote communities. The projects are located across Australia from very remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia and Northern Territory to rural farming communities in Victoria.
The funding has been allocated under Round One of the $50.4 million Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, which aims to support up to 50 projects. The fund was established to support community organizations, electricity distribution businesses and other interested entities to investigate whether establishing a microgrid is economically viable and whether existing off-grid capabilities can be upgraded with modern technology.
The applicants had a chance to win between $100,000 to $10 million to undertake feasibility studies on the viability of microgrid solutions in off-grid and fringe-of-grid locations. Where feasibility studies find that microgrids are cost-effective, communities will be able to upgrade existing diesel generation or take advantage of new on-site renewable generation and storage opportunities.
“Our regional and remote communities need an affordable energy supply they can rely on to ensure local businesses can grow and thrive which means more jobs and more economic activity,” said deputy prime minister Michael McCormack. “We need to be looking at options that will help lower cost of living pressures on families and businesses in not only the cities but in the regions especially as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Announcing the establishment of the fund last year, the government said that microgrids can help reduce electricity bills for regional and remote communities, as well as deliver benefits for the grid as a whole by saving hundreds of millions of dollars in network costs.
Such opportunities were previously explored by utilities in Western Australian, where the deployment of microgrids, specifically stand-alone power systems (SPS), which are usually a combination of solar, batteries and a back-up generator, is a particularly attractive proposition. With new rules in place as of last month, further uptake of SPS across Australia may be expected, making it possible for utilities to service remote areas with such systems and avoid costly network upgrades.
On Friday, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said microgrids are becoming increasingly cost-effective, “creating the opportunity for a reliable, low cost, off-grid supply to our regional communities and industries.”
“This funding will enable many communities to realise the potential of innovative technologies or distributed energy resources, like solar and batteries, or reduce their reliance on costly diesel generation,” Taylor said. “Lower cost energy is crucial to creating jobs in regional communities.”
A large number of successful projects under Round One of the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund will address energy supply in some of our most remote Indigenous communities. “Living remotely means that there’s already increases in costs, which can slow and dampen economic opportunity. Ultimately, we want to see affordable and reliable energy for families and businesses in remote Australia,” Minister for Indigenous Affairs Ken Wyatt said.
For instance, one of the awarded projects will see Horizon Power produce a plan for 13 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia (WA) to upgrade to utility standard electricity services, while another one will look to transition Australia’s most remote communities – the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island – to renewable energy. Since WA’s remote communities are far behind the rest of Australia in terms of electricity supply, the state government has already launched an $11.6 million program, which will see solar and battery storage systems installed at six Indigenous communities.
In the Northern Territory, a project will focus on conducting a robust technical and economic analysis of Alice Springs, a small yet complex remote microgrid, as well as behavioral modeling to better understand consumer behavior. The town already hosts a 5 MW battery storage system.
Another NT project is the Power and Water Corporation’s Microgrids Futures Project (SETuP 2.0), which will produce a suite of studies applicable to the portfolio of over 60 remote isolated grids operated by the NT utility. The project will build on lessons from the successful SETuP Program, which has deployed 10 MW of PV capacity at 25 sites across the territory.
In Queensland, Yurika, an arm of publicly-owned Energy Queensland, will aim to advance the commercial viability of microgrids for the C&I sector in regional Australia, while another project will investigate microgrid technologies for the Yarrabah Community with the intention to make Yarrabah a knowledge sharing showcase of a self-reliant, sustainable micro-grid that can be rolled out to other communities.
In NSW, the 1 MW Cowra Solar and Battery Microgrid will bring together the energy needs of several large industrial regional businesses into a single aggregated embedded network, while Innovating Energy will use the government funds to test the feasibility of its InnovE PowerSmart farm electricity generation and technology solution in the dairy industry to build and support a business case for its wider adoption across agriculture in Australia.
Looking to use the town’s abundant solar generation in the evening, Totally Renewable Yackandandah will draw together a technical feasibility study of both a 1-2 MW battery storage and a 4-6 MW pumped hydro facility and then consider their financial viability in the local area network. Another project in Victoria is Wattwatcher’s MyTown Microgrid, which will take an innovative approach to microgrid feasibility using cutting edge IoT technology, combined with community engagement and business model co-design for the Latrobe Valley town of Heyfield.
A couple of awarded projects will span across two states. To see a full list of the successful round one applicants, click here.
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