Australian Government Awards $13.2 million for Microgrid Feasibility Studies

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The Australian government has awarded about $13.2 million (U.S.) for microgrid feasibility studies as part of a growing effort to bolster grid reliability and provide electricity in unserved areas across the continent.

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The June 5 awards were the first to be made by the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, which intends to provide $35.1 million over five years.

The fund supports feasibility studies looking at microgrid technologies to replace, upgrade or supplement existing electricity supply arrangements in off-grid and fringe-of grid communities in regional and remote areas.

The first tranche of funding will help 17 projects study whether setting up a microgrid, or upgrading existing off-grid technologies, can better meet the electricity needs of regional and remote communities, according to Angus Taylor, minister for energy and emissions reduction. 

“Microgrid technology is becoming increasingly cost effective, creating the opportunity for a reliable, low cost, off-grid supply to our regional communities and industries,” Taylor said. “This funding will enable many communities to realize the potential of innovative technologies or distributed energy resources, like solar and batteries, or reduce their reliance on costly diesel generation.”

The microgrid feasibility studies range widely in their goals. One of the larger projects, for example, will test the feasibility of setting up microgrids for the dairy industry based on biogas anaerobic digester power generation.

Another will explore setting up microgrids using solar-diesel hybrid generation to serve Aboriginal people living in Western Australia’s remote communities.

In Exmouth, Western Australia, microgrid technology will be used to help the town achieve 100 percent renewable energy.

Another project will focus a 1-MW solar and battery microgrid that will combine the energy needs of several industrial businesses into an aggregated network. The structure will provide cost savings for the clients and increase their energy security with the addition of shared resources, according to the Australian government. 

The Australian government is increasingly focusing on improving grid reliability and providing economic power, especially at the edges of the grid system, according to Terry Mohn, CEO of General Microgrids and former chairman of the Australia-based International Microgrid Association.

Australia’s remote regions tend to have unreliable power and often rely on diesel generators, Mohn said, noting that wildfires have led to recent outages. Also, as more and more distributed solar comes online, Australia is seeing a growing mid-day trough in demand, leading baseload generation to move towards retirement, he said.

“Microgrids have an opportunity to offset some of the challenges,” Mohn said.

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The feasibility funding is a “great support” for the microgrid sector in Australia, according to Mohn. “Once we can show the business case exists [for microgrids,] there will be sufficient flow of funds to build them.” 

Microgrid development is a global phenomenon, with growth occurring in Australia, the United States and India, according to Mohn.

The winning grant recipients and microgrid feasibility projects are:

  • Alinga Energy Consulting. The project will explore how microgrids can improve power supply for indigenous communities, with a goal of developing strategies that can be replicated.
  • Atyenhenge-Atherre Aboriginal. The Santa Teresa microgrid project is focused on understanding the technical and commercial feasibility of microgrid solutions for Santa Teresa, a remote Aboriginal community of 600 residents.
  • C.L.E.A.N. The 1-MW Cowra solar and battery microgrid project aims to aggregate several large industrial regional businesses into a single embedded network, while developing energy generation and dispatchable capacity.
  • Center For New Energy Technologies. The Charlton Zone Substation microgrid project will explore the feasibility of islanding two towns with supply vulnerabilities.
  • Desert Knowledge Australia. The Alice Springs modeling project seeks to address barriers that are causing serious grid stability issues and limiting additional renewable energy from being added to the Alice Springs power system.
  • Ener-G Management Group. The Yarrabah project will study microgrid options for an indigenous community.
  • Ergon Energy. The project will consider options for deploying technology to increase installed solar and develop a pathway to enable “diesel off” for significant periods of the day for four remote communities.
  • Impact Investment Partners. The Mutitjulu and Martu Community project will study microgrid options for four remote communities that get their electricity from diesel generation.
  • Innovating Energy. The project will test the feasibility of using bio-digesters at dairy farms to, among other things, build a wholesale and retail “virtual power station co-operative” generating green energy for the region.
  • Island Power. The Indian Ocean Territories Renewable Energy Microgrid study will examine renewable-based microgrids for several islands, which have some of the highest power costs in Australia and face critical power reliability problems.
  • Power And Water. The project will investigate ways of maintaining or improving microgrid reliability while supporting higher levels of customer solar investment for 60 existing remote microgrids.
  • Queensland Farmers’ Federation. The project will see if microgrids can offer benefits to electricity consumers and networks such as more stable network energy flows, increased network utilization, increased uptake of distributed energy and lower costs in the rural and irrigation sector.
  • Regional Power and Horizon Power. Horizon Power will produce a plan for 13 Aboriginal communities to use microgrids to reach utility standard electricity services.
  • Regional Power and Horizon Power. Horizon Power will explore transitioning Exmouth, Western Australia, to 100 percent renewable energy.
  • Totally Renewable Yackandandah. The project will explore how to use storage capacity to manage excess daytime solar generation.
  • Wattwatchers. The MyTown Microgrid project aims to develop tools to make it faster and cheaper for regional communities to deploy microgrids, partly through the use of “internet of things” technology.
  • Yurika. The project aims to advance the commercial viability of microgrids for the commercial and industrial sector in regional Australia.

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