Microgrid Powers Town and Opens Door to Federation of Microgrids in Australia

Feb. 28, 2020
With a microgrid now in place that can power a whole town, Horizon Power takes a concrete step toward increasing use of renewable energy and creating a ‘federation of microgrids’ in Western Australia. The key? Advanced microgrid controls.

Australia utility Horizon Power and PXiSE Energy Solutions, a provider of microgrid controls, are working to demonstrate that microgrids in remote areas can replace traditional infrastructure and boost renewables.

Horizon Power, Western Australia’s regional energy utility, has begun operating a microgrid consisting of 1 MW solar and 2 MW battery storage, plus natural gas, serving the town of Onslow in a remote area of Australia. It replaced diesel and thermal units, adding renewable energy.

“It’s significant that a microgrid can supply a whole town with energy.”

In this project, PXiSE microgrid controls gather high-speed data from the energy assets to optimize renewable energy output and power quality. Operating costs are expected to drop because solar will displace diesel generation.

The town of Onslow, photo courtesy PXiSE Energy Solutions

“It’s significant that a microgrid can supply a whole town with energy. This is the first of a series of microgrids for Horizon,” said Hanna Grene, lead of strategy partnerships marketing and sales for PXiSE. “Putting the Onslow microgrid online is a big shift that will bring more renewables into that community.”

The project is part of a broader effort by Horizon Power to integrate more renewable and distributed energy and replace fossil fuels.

Microgrids and customers as a unified asset

PXiSE aims to create a “federation of microgrids” to boost renewable energy in remote Australian towns under an agreement with Horizon Power. Many of the remote towns now have minigrids or microgrids, each about 1 MW in size, that burn up to 95% diesel.

PXiSE has said that by using its distributed energy resource management (DERM) system, it can increase the percentage of renewables from about 30% to 50% and above. The company’s DERM system networks distributed energy resources (DER) together and adjusts to grid challenges quickly, the company has said.

“Horizon set out to create a series of solutions as part of renewable and distributed energy sets of projects,” said Grene. “The goal is to bring more renewables online and engage different types of renewable assets.”

Horizon’s broader effort will involve deploying PXiSE DERMS solutions that include customers’ solar and storage.

See related story: How Western Australia Can Lead on Renewable Energy Microgrids

“The DERMS project will control microgrid and customer assets as a unified system; that’s the broader goal of the project,” said Grene.

An important milestone in that larger effort is the Onslow microgrid, which came online at the end of 2019 and is fully operational.

In this and other projects, PXiSE provides software that controls renewable and distributed energy resources to help integrate them onto the grid successfully. All the company’s projects use the same core software and controls.

Fast action crucial

For Onslow, the company’s microgrid controls gather real time grid data using grid sensors and quickly make decisions about dispatching renewables and DERs.

“Our speciality is speed and accuracy of controls that allow for integration of high levels of renewables with different types of assets,” said Grene. “We think high speed controls are the future.”

Speed is essential because of the intermittency of renewable energy; if a cloud covers solar PV panels suddenly, controls need to act quickly to ensure the grid is reliable. And if power prices change, fast action is needed.

“We need flexible optimization so we can adapt to changing grid needs and customer needs and tariffs quickly,” said Grene. “Having a real time controller that can use our sensor based technology to pull in that real time information allows us to mitigate disturbances and balance storage and other DERs in real time.”

“You don’t have a few minutes to maintain resilience,” she said.

This project is a front of the meter application, but PXiSE also has behind the meter projects.

Different aims of microgrid controls

PXiSE’s microgrid controls are used with different aims: some are designed to use as much onsite renewable energy as possible and island from the grid; others are optimized to support frequency and voltage management; and others aim to optimize the economics of the microgrids.

“In any of the markets PXiSE is working in globally, we’re seeing shifts in regulation that recognize distributed energy is a powerful grid resource and renewables will provide an increasing percentage of power,” said Grene. “ We are also seeing microgrids as a building block for how we can operate the grid of the future.”

Read more about use of microgrid controls here on Microgrid Knowledge.

About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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