Networks in SA, QLD looking to micro-grids & storage for remote areas

South Australia’ electricity network operator has revealed plans to trial solar plus storage-based micro-grids in regional areas as an alternative to building or replacing poles and wires.

In its latest five-year spending plan submitted to the Australian Energy Regulator, SA Power Networks said “micro-grid” technology had “particular promise” as a cheap alternative to diesel, and as a solution to weather related black-outs that plague regional areas.

The submission says SAPN needs to upgrade 31 remote power lines, and will use a solar and battery storage-based micro grid for one one them – at a cost of $2.8 million.

It will be a combination of distributed storage and centralised storage, and will be considered as a future alternative option to remediate reliability or defer augmentation to remote communities.

SAPN noted in its submission that microgrids of the past had generally relied on diesel fuel as their prime means of electrical supply.

“These types of systems are prohibitively expensive other than for customers that place a very high value on reliability of supply (for example, hospitals and data centres) or for customers that are remote and for which a grid connection is uneconomic,” the SAPN submission said.

“With the continued advancement of solar PV distributed generation capabilities, and anticipated cost reductions in battery storage technologies, new opportunities are arising for more cost effective micro-grids.

“With significant local generation already in place (solar PV) and if a material number of customers also take up battery technology, this investment by individual customers may be able to be leveraged to maintain supply to an entire community should that community’s network connection fail.”

SA Power Networks predicted last year that regional communities would ultimately focus on micro-grids, which would rely on renewables and storage, and could either be “stand-alone” or connected to the main grid with a “thin wire” as back-up. The savings to the network operator could be significant.

In Queensland, Egon Energy is now installing battery storage as a cheaper and more reliable alternative than upgrading the wires that connect coal fired power stations to regional consumers, and Western Australia is also looking to micro-grids as an alternative to “costly and unreliable” centralised grids.

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson