Western Australia Utility Tests Solar Plus Storage, Microgrids to Reduce Fossil Fuel Use

Dec. 6, 2017
Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARNEA) has awarded Western Australia’s Horizon Power a US$1.44 million to build a distributed solar plus storage microgrid to test how weather affects behind-the-meter solar networks and improve upon microgrids.

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARNEA) has awarded Western Australia’s Horizon Power US$1.44 million toward a distributed solar plus storage microgrid to test how weather affects behind-the-meter solar networks and improve upon microgrids.

The ultimate goal is to reduce reliance on fossil fuel power generation while delivering reliable, pollution-free power at lower, more stable cost.

Solar PV systems will be installed on the rooftops of 90 Horizon Power residential and business customers in the Western Australian town of Carnarvon at the outset of the three-year test, the total cost of which is pegged at $5.37 million.

The distributed solar-storage test grant is the latest in a series of similar initiatives on Horizon Power’s part, all of which are aimed at dramatically reducing the utility and customers’ dependence on fossil fuels for power generation. ARENA and Horizon aim to overcome the technical and economic barriers preventing home and business owners from becoming solar energy prosumers by lowering the total cost of doing so by as much as 25 percent.

Western Australia is a vast, generally sparsely populated area rich in mineral resources, the mining of which continues to be a mainstay of the Australian state’s economy. Stretching power lines to deliver electricity from massive coal-fired power plants to the small towns and communities is expensive, however.

The government subsidizes grid services in Horizon Power’s service territory – some 50,000 customers spread across 1.4 million square miles – to the tune of $500 million annually. The utility is compensated around $3,800 per customer per year for doing so.

Rather than continue to draw on state taxpayer funds, other government revenues and funds raised via issuance of debt, the investor-owned utility’s Managing Director Frank Tudor is intent on reducing those subsidies all the way to zero. Horizon, ARENA and Australia expect to advance along that path as a result of the solar plus storage microgrid test.

Horizon Power is intent on reducing grid subsidies to zero.

Integral to the distributed solar-storage trial, as well as Horizon achieving its strategic fossil fuel reduction goal, the utility will install smart meters, weather forecasting and remote monitoring and control devices, along with household battery storage and rooftop solar PV systems in the 90 homes and businesses participating in the trial. They will be converted from being energy consumers to solar energy prosumers as a result, a fundamental transformation that is now under way, to varying degrees and extent, worldwide.

ARENA says that the project will test the commercial viability of delivering high penetration distributed renewable energy to regional off-grid towns, facilitating increasing renewables in existing microgrids.

Advanced battery storage to enhance coal-fired and distributed solar

Horizon is working to reduce fossil fuel consumption and power generation in other ways, and tie into the new, distributed energy generation-microgrid trial. Earlier this year, the utility launched a 12-month trial project by deploying 2MW/2MWh of battery-based energy storage capacity in order to reduce fossil fuel consumption at the Mungallah power station in Carnarvon.

The Mungallah-Carnarvon battery energy storage system will be used as spinning reserve, ready to dispatch a maximum of 2 MW of electricity to the grid at any given moment in the event of a failure at Mungallah. Horizon stands to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a result given it is now able to avoid purchasing diesel fuel, which the utility had been using to fuel generators that serve the same purpose.

The battery energy storage system can also be charged by the behind-the-meter solar PV systems to be installed at the homes of Horizon customers participating in the distributed generation-microgrid trial. That will enhance the stability, reliability and resiliency of Horizon’s power grid in that the utility will be able to draw on battery-stored energy during peak periods of demand.

“These trials of distributed energy systems will explore the most cost-effective way of designing and managing a future grid. If we can resolve the technical and cost barriers of distributed energy systems and get metering, monitoring, solar and storage to work as a whole, we can make better use of these assets, reduce costs and empower prosumers,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht.

Western Australia Energy Minister Wyatt added: “The State Government is committed to supporting the development and refinement of technological solutions that advance a renewable future and we are delighted that ARENA have chosen to invest in such important trials that will ultimately see more renewable energy installed in regional Western Australia.”

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About the Author

Andrew Burger