November 25, 2020

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Energy technology – a boon for regional WA homes

The WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston has congratulated Western Power on the successful deployment of 52 stand-alone power systems (SPS) at properties throughout the Mid-West, Goldfields, eastern Wheatbelt and Great Southern regions. The final SPS unit commissioned in this roll-out, in Wansbrough, is a trial unit that will supply two customers – another Australian first.

Stand-alone power systems are a more efficient option than traditional poles and wires, to supplying electricity to households or businesses, and typically includes solar panels, a battery and back-up generator.

The 52 units will replace around 230 kilometres of overhead powerlines, at an average of 4.5 kilometres per property, all of which would have needed to be replaced at a significant cost. This also results in improved land amenity for farmers and reduced risks of collisions or bushfire.

An SPS is part of Western Power’s service area but operates independently to the main network. The 52 unit roll-out follows a successful pilot involving six stand-alone power systems in 2016; it exceeded expectations with customers avoiding over 200 hours of power interruptions over the three-year trial.

Deploying stand-alone power systems has generated direct benefits for the State economy through supporting WA small businesses, and creating new jobs and training opportunities. The deployment beyond the trial phase was made possible by the McGowan Government’s Electricity Industry Amendment Bill 2019, which passed earlier this year.

The Energy Minister stated that the stand-alone power systems are a cost-effective and innovative approach to providing power to WA’s regional customers. Using SPS is part of the McGowan Government’s commitment to providing reliable and safe power to customers that are on the fringe of the grid. The government has made significant headway in transitioning towards a low carbon future with the recent release of the Whole of System Plan, DER Roadmap, the big battery and commissioning of SPS technology.

The basics of SPS technology

Murdoch University notes that Stand-alone Power Supply (SPS) systems are small-scale (<50 kW) self-contained units, providing electricity independent of the main electricity grid or mini-grid network. These systems are sometimes also known as Remote Area Power Supply (RAPS) systems.

In Australia, most electricity is supplied by utilities or electricity corporations from power stations via power supply networks, called grids. These main grids provide power to the majority of Australians using many large coal and gas-fired power stations, large hydro generation schemes and more recently, some smaller-scale wind farms and photovoltaic systems. Remote towns like Port Hedland, Mt Isa and Coober Pedy are not serviced by the main grid and have gas or diesel power stations or combined diesel/wind power stations to provide their power via a mini-grid.

SPS Systems (SPS) in Australia

In Australia stand-alone and hybrid power systems are used widely in remote areas to provide power for the following situations: small holiday homes and shacks, boats and recreational vehicles, small rural farms (single homes), large station homesteads (with multiple residences), remote aboriginal communities, small mining operations, and various telecommunications applications. While the total number of systems in Australia is not accurately known, it has been estimated as being more than 10,000 systems.

Main Component Technologies

SPS systems range from small petrol generators able to power appliances directly, to more complex installations using only renewable energy, with a combination of both also being possible. An SPS system that has a combination of energy sources is termed a hybrid SPS system.