Utility pays for rural power lines to be replaced with solar-plus-storage for remote farms

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From pv magazine Australia.

While the rest of the developed world discusses the prospect of how storage will transform grids and utilities, the state government of Western Australia (WA) is getting on with it – by replacing 54 km of ageing power lines and poles with off-grid solar and storage systems at 14 farms.

The state government on Tuesday announced site works will start next month on installing 13 micro power systems (MPS’) to support 14 properties in the Esperance region, with one of the systems powering two farms.

The MPS’ are standalone solar and battery systems that include a back-up diesel generator in case more power is needed. As well as replacing ageing grid infrastructure, the transition reduces the risk of bushfires caused by lightning strikes and of incidents related to the operation of farm machinery near electricity lines.

“These farmers are at the fringe of the power grid, east of Esperance and the Condingup area, where reliability isn’t as good and power outages take longer to restore,” said WA energy minister Bill Johnston.

A solution to power outages

The systems will be rolled out within the network of state government-owned utility Horizon Power. Under the program, customers will pay the same tariff that currently applies for electricity from the conventional network.

Faced with high energy costs and unreliable power supply to many remote farms connected to the grid by long ‘skinny’ lines, Aussie farmers are eager to consider on-site solutions. As demonstrated in a report published by Commonwealth Bank last year, solar-plus-storage tops the wishlist for 76% of Australian farmers

In WA, the deployment of standalone power systems appears to be gaining traction. Only two weeks ago, regional utility Western Power announced it was set to roll out 57 standalone systems at farms, having signed $8.8 million (US$6.19 million) worth of contracts for the first stage of its landmark off-grid program for regional properties.

Western Power said servicing the 57 units would work out $6 million cheaper than traditional network refurbishment. Such cost savings assessment has not been released by Horizon Power for its MPS program.

“Traditional electricity lines that run more than 50 km through remote bushland face all kinds of hazards, like falling trees, lightning strikes, high winds and incidents with farm machinery,” said Horizon Power’s general manager for consumer energy Mark Paterson. “As a result, these customers who are east of Esperance and the Condingup area can have frequent and prolonged power outages that may take considerable time to restore. Experience has shown us that customers love the MPS solution as it provides them with safe, reliable power day after day.”

Perth-based CPS National will deliver and install the WA systems, which will be fully operational this year.