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by Frank Tudor, Managing Director, Horizon Power

As Australia’s energy industry undergoes unprecedented change driven by consumers’ desire for more choice and control, Horizon Power’s unrelenting focus is on the future – and that future is microgrids.

Western Australia is helping to shape the energy transformation journey, with our regional and remote communities at the forefront of the energy production frontier.

Why? Because the technological changes currently underway are focused on integrating customers and their devices at the low voltage distribution side of networks.

This poses challenges at a technical level, to both integrate and then optimise the interaction of these devices at a very high level of penetration (more than 50 per cent) for the benefit of the individual owner and collectively for the interconnecting network system.

This also poses challenges around regulation and pricing. The ability to trial different concepts in partnership with communities, without the undue impediments of differential ownership of the existing supply system and heavy regulation, make our portfolio of microgrids ideal development platforms (sandboxes if you will) to prove concepts, and develop capable and valuable intellectual property.

Microgrids are an ideal solution for our communities – Horizon Power services the biggest area with the least amount of customers in the world; for every 53.5km2 of terrain, we have one customer. We have nearly 40 microgrids spread across a vast area of 2.5 million km2.

Microgrids unlock the potential for technological advances, cost-saving measures, and more renewable and environmentally-friendly energy options to be implemented into a network.

Microgrids are self-sufficient electricity networks that can be embedded in, or be remote from, a larger network.

These grids enable distributed energy resources like solar panels and batteries that are located away from a central power station to feed into the network.

As an intelligent network, a microgrid will also allow the integration of smart devices and appliances. Distributed energy resources can be combined to complement the main power supply and help meet demand, and can offer greater potential for consumer participation, catering to a future world where prosumers are the norm.

So the challenge we face is managing the integration of the distributed renewable energy sources into our existing networks.

Putting it into practice

At present, some microgrids in our service area, such as in Carnarvon and Broome, have reached capacity for how much solar energy they can host, but that will soon be a thing of the past as developments and upgrades are made.

The Pilbara town of Onslow is the first of our microgrids to be tested, with up to 50 per cent of the town’s energy needs to be delivered by a combination of solar and battery storage.

The project includes essential electricity network infrastructure upgrades, a new transmission line and substation, as well as a 5.25 megawatt gas-fired modular power station, designed to efficiently contract in size as the renewable energy contribution expands to meet energy needs.

Our Onslow microgrid project is one of the largest undertaken in the Asia Pacific region. Distributed energy resources will be integrated, in collaboration with the community, at levels not previously achieved in remote microgrids.

This work will see the replacement of the entire traditional power system in Onslow.

Our business strategy – something we invested significant time in to revolutionise – outlines the shift we want to see from traditional energy infrastructure to a future of more rooftop solar, batteries and stand-alone power systems in each of our electricity networks.

This approach is receiving widespread acclaim from industry experts. In 2017, Deloitte named Horizon Power as one of the three most innovative electricity companies in the nation.

Running with the research

Our strategy is based on forecasts that by 2050, around 62 per cent of our systems will be best served by distributed energy resources, 12 per cent will be off-grid (such as standalone power systems), and the remaining 26 per cent will remain centralised, but incorporate a high level of renewable sources.

As a result, carbon emissions are forecast to reduce by 51 per cent over the same timeframe, while reliability will improve and overall system security will be maintained.

Bloomberg notes that more has been spent globally in recent years on renewables than thermal generation, and Navigant Research anticipates that more will be spent on distributed rather than centralised renewable energy by the end of this decade.

Studies by CSIRO and Energy Networks Australia foreshadow a similar trend towards distribution enabled by advances in technology.

This will inevitably challenge regulation, business models and the very essence of the status quo in the electricity industry which has developed without much change over the last century.

I would argue that microgrids in their various guises will form the DNA of the electricity industry in the 21 st century.

The technology we are developing here in regional Western Australia will steer the nation’s energy industry into the future and help us achieve our core business objective – to become the world’s leading microgrid company.

Ours is a rare and unique portfolio, and one that is ideal for developing and refining the products and services for this new world of energy.

To watch a video of Horizon Power’s Onlsow project, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3gIvLZt_Kc

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