People like to yap about how unsightly wind turbines and solar panels are, yet those same people never see the ugliness of the poles and wires that carry electricity to every home and business on the electrical grid. People in parts of Western Australia will soon be able to see the sky without them as Horizon Power, a state-owned utility, begins dismantling some of its traditional infrastructure and replacing it with standalone power systems for customers on the edge of its service area.
Those standalone systems — or microgrids — will run on solar power, inverters, and battery storage, with diesel generators available as needed. Stephanie Unwin, CEO of Horizon Power, says standalone power is a viable alternative in remote locations where customers are experiencing frequent outages as a result of lightning strikes, bush fires, vegetation, and bird strikes, according to a report by PV Magazine.
“We only have to look back to the fires of 2015 to see how important this new energy solution can be for the safety of a community,” she says. “Over the last three years we have successfully demonstrated technologies such as SPS [solar power systems], which improve reliability of power supply and safety for our customers and can offer sustainable energy solutions at a lower cost than traditional solutions.” Horizon Power plans to create 30 standalone systems for customers in remote areas, which will allow it to remove more than 115 kilometers of poles and wires.
During an inspection of one of the new off-grid systems, state energy minister Bill Johnston said, “The energy sector is undergoing a significant transformation which is mainly driven by the rapid uptake of solar panels and battery storage systems at homes. Improving our energy sector in Western Australia is essential and overdue, which is why the McGowan government launched its Energy Transformation Strategy earlier this year.”
Western Power, the grid operator in Western Australia, is also pushing forward with plans to create 57 standalone power systems for remote locations. (There are a lot of remote locations in Western Australia.) Those systems will cost about $6 million, but save the company nearly $4 million in network maintenance and upgrades.
The Australian Energy Market Commission is urging the federal government — which is actively hostile to renewable energy — to make regulatory changes that would encourage more standalone systems. Trials of standalone power systems are under way in New South Wales and Queensland.
“The old-fashioned way of centralized generation being distributed by stringing poles and wires to the remote corners of Australia is giving way to solar and battery systems where energy is generated closer to where it is used,” AEMC chief executive Anne Pearson says. “These reforms mean that people living at the end of the line will get a better quality service with the same protections without paying any more.”