by Ben Bristow, Head of Grid Transformation, Western Power

In Western Australia, our network is different; we have one of the world’s largest islanded grids that spans 254,000 square km presenting unique, sometimes difficult, but always exciting challenges in ensuring the continued power supply to more than two million customers. How we manage the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), which includes both the transmission and distribution networks, is always evolving as we look to develop, trial and incorporate new technologies and delve deeper into our data.

Our path towards decarbonisation and enabling the rapid growth and integration of renewables into the network has seen us think outside the box – how can we enhance and improve customer energy solutions while ensuring equity for all.

In planning for the changing energy landscape, which is being evidenced around the world, we’re transforming to a modular grid to ensure a cleaner, brighter and more resilient energy supply for the next generation.

We want to ensure that we continue to meet the changing energy needs of Western Australians and this means looking at how we can better manage the network and deploy innovative customer solutions.

We are aiming to ensure that Western Power can support greater energy needs being delivered by renewable resources by 2031. Already there is more than 1.6GW of solar photovoltaics (PV) connected to our distribution network – that’s one in three households and this is set to be one-in-two by 2030.

How we’ve planned for a safe, decarbonised and reliable network of the future with the growth of renewables and changing climate has seen the birth of the Grid Transformation Engine (GTEng) – an innovative proof of concept scenario modelling tool that we’ve developed in-house.

This ground-breaking modelling maps out what our network will look like in 10, 20, 30 plus years, enabling a new dimension in our decision making. GTEng uses intelligence from our data processing, electrical engineering, modelling and optimisation methods to form a cutting-edge planning tool that allows for multiple scenarios around future power needs and use.

It processes complex and wide-ranging data to create visualisations and forecasts of different scenarios, including population and demographic predictions, economic forecasts, customer needs and profiles, energy generation and loads, energy use and location mapping.

It involves multiple stages of data processing with different filters applied at each stage, which help us visualise what the potential energy landscape will look like and what we need to maintain and improve power supply.

As a Government Trading Enterprise (GTE) and critical service provider, the community is at the centre of everything we do. To that end, we built our customer profiles through engaging customer groups and understanding their current and future energy uses including looking at things like battery and solar PV uptake. We then took that information and spread it across our customer base to create different energy forecasting scenarios.

When you combine the forecasts and customer demand profiles across the different scenarios, we get a unique view and clarity on the most efficient ways to service energy needs. It’s exciting in that we get to look at it from a clean sheet perspective – what would we do in an ideal state across those multiple scenarios?

The results have been fantastic and extremely insightful, laying the foundation for a new way of thinking in how we better plan for the future.

A key insight we’ve seen so far is the benefits of urban undergrounding power for our metro customer profiles while maintaining poles and wires for customers in the outer metro area.

We also now know that a significant proportion of our distribution overhead network, more than 50 per cent, could be transformed into an autonomous grid using stand-alone power systems (SPS) and microgrids.

With this new understanding, we’re now progressing from the network of today to the grid of tomorrow. This involves transition pathways and looking at our maintenance and renewal strategies and other inputs to be able to look at the most efficient economic pathway to transitioning the network. And this is where the GTEng comes into its own.

Already we’re deploying SPS in regional locations where there are network and customer benefits. GTEng enables us to identify distribution network feeders with different spurs that could evolve into an autonomous grid. It looks at the age, risk, and customer use of each spur and creates a net present cost view of using a traditional network solution versus an innovative solution such as an SPS.

SPS provides our regional customers with a cost-effective, safe and reliable alternative to pole-and-wire power distribution, particularly in regional and remote locations where supply costs are high and power reliability and quality are impacted by distance, access issues, terrain and events such as storms and bushfires.

Since rolling out our first pilot SPS in 2016, we now have 97 across the grid and we’re looking to deploy 1,000 in the next four years and 4,000 units in the coming decade. Modelling has shown that if we roll out 6,000 SPS, we’ll be able to decommission more than 23,000kms of overhead assets.

While SPS is a significant part of the transformation process, we’re aiming even higher, and looking to transform around 50 per cent of our distribution asset base. The GTEng also provides greater insights into the use and prevalence of distributed energy resources (DER) and the need for DER orchestration. The impact of solar PV penetration on parts of the network highlights the need for coordination to mitigate overload and the need for augmentation.

Other scenarios we’re looking at include how an unmanaged EV charging situation, say at six o’clock in the evening, could impact the low voltage network and what augmentation would be required. This has helped inform our underground strategy in the metropolitan area.

About 60 per cent of the Perth metropolitan area now has underground power with around 90,000 homes and businesses converted from overhead to underground power since undergrounding began in 1996. Western Power has identified a further 300 projects across the metro area that will benefit from underground power in the next two decades.

As a stand-alone grid, we collaborate more broadly with other energy utilities and agencies in Western Australia and due to GTEng’s scalability, we’ve been able to share forecasting scenarios for generation planning.

This has provided us with a unique environment where we’ve got consistent information being used at the distribution, transmission and generation level, all of which are being driven by customer needs.

We’ve basically created an ecosystem of modelling. We’re now looking at how we can expand our proof of concept for distribution into a transmission modelling tool, and then ultimately, more broadly integrate generation. This builds on the work we’ve done to successfully trial innovative solutions like SPS, battery storage and the Kalbarri microgrid.

Along with improving DER integration, the coordination of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and modernised connection standards for DER we can successfully plan for greater amounts of grid-connected storage to help manage a mix of energy generation.

The GTEng’s ecosystem of modelling helps inform whole-ofsystem planning for Western Australia by providing a consistent suite of information that’s been able to give us a quality outcome across the board.

It’s enabled us to trial and successfully progress transformational investment in existing assets and new technology on our path towards a modular grid ensuring better power outcomes for Western Australians.

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