A joint venture between state-owned utility Western Power and local engineering firm Power Research and Development will see the town of Walpole become the Western Australia’s first microgrid with pumped hydro as its storage cornerstone.
On Thursday, work begun on the 1.5 MW pumped hydro facility which will use two farm dams to provide 30 MWh of storage. The “mini” pumped hydro facility is expected to be operational by the second half of 2023.
It will connect into the state’s islanded South West Interconnected System (SWIS) network and work as part of a microgrid, providing power to just over 500 local customers, Western Power said. In the event of a network disruption, the microgrid will be able to work independently.
The pumped hydro facility will store enough power to supply Walpole for up to two days, far longer than a typical lithium battery solution.
“This project, despite being on a smaller scale, will be used as a template for other areas in the state, and possibly nationally and internationally,” WA’s Energy Minister Bill Johnston said.
Earlier this month, the Power Research and Development was awarded $2 million as part of the state government’s Clean Energy Future Fund to progress the project.
The pumped hydro solution, which stores energy by pumping water uphill when renewables are abundant and cheap before releasing it downhill when needed, will ultimately not only store renewable energy but also safeguard the regional town against power outages.
Situated on the southern tip of the state, Walpole sits at the end of a 125 kilometre long feeder line that is exposed to storms, lightning, bushfires, animals and other disruptive elements.
The pumped hydro solution will mitigate up to 80% of outages experienced in the town though, according to the state government. The plan for the microgrid is to offer this vastly improved reliability at no additional cost to businesses or the community.
The pumping mechanism at the Walpole facility will be powered by solar panels and batteries “making it self-sufficient,” Western Power said.
Western Power and Horizon Power, both government owned entities, have pioneered a number of microgrid projects in the state, which has long been challenged by connecting its regional populations across vast, harsh landscapes. The utilities have found not only a cleaner but also a more economic solution in deploying renewable microgrids and standalone solutions.
In February, Western Power switched on its largest renewable energy microgrid to date in the coastal town of Kalbarri. It is powered by 1 MW of feed-in from residential rooftop solar, a 1.6 MW wind farm, backed by a 5 MW/2 MWh battery energy storage system.
Now the company is investigating the opportunities for pumped hydro as a storage solution.
“Our project has new and clever technology; but generating power from two farm dams in Walpole is inspired by the earliest AC hydro power plant, built in 1892. It is still running today as a source of clean, renewable energy,” Power Research and Development Director Colin Stonehouse said.
“We must be onto something good because the project has drawn on some of the leading suppliers in the world for its equipment and without exception, they have all wanted to be involved and been very generous with their help.”
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