In Landmark Feat, Australian Community Microgrid Runs on 100% Solar Plus Storage

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Onslow, a remote town in Western Australia, got all its electricity for 80 minutes from solar power, a first-ever feat that shows how an advanced microgrid controller and a distributed energy resources management system (DERMS) can help communities use increasing amounts of renewable energy without grid stability issues, according to the Horizon Power, a regional utility, and PXiSE, a grid management company.

microgrid controller

Courtesy of Horizon Power

Microgrid taps residential solar

During the demonstration in late May, Onslow, with a population of about 850 people, was served by 700 kW of rooftop solar from over 260 customers and 600 kW of utility solar.

The Onslow microgrid includes a power station battery storage system and solar smoothing from a 1-MW zone substation battery. The town’s microgrid includes an 8-MW natural gas-fired generator that wasn’t used during the test run.

Using PXiSE’s microgrid controller and DERMS, Horizon Power’s engineers successfully switched the Onslow microgrid to run entirely on solar while maintaining steady-state frequency and voltage. The DERMS managed the residential solar, providing predictive analytics for solar conditions.

“This is a significant milestone for energy control technology and renewable energy, with broad applications for the world at large,” said PXiSE Energy Solutions CEO Patrick Lee.

The DERMS and microgrid controller-facilitated fossil fuel-free period in Onslow shows how some communities can run solely on solar plus battery storage, Lee said.

By replacing diesel generators in Onslow with solar power, Horizon Power expects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 820 tons a year.

A model for other microgrids

The Onslow project is providing information Horizon Power expects to use as part of its plan to add more renewable power to its systems across Western Australia, a move the utility expects will cut its fuel costs.

“This technical functionality developed in Onslow continues to lead the industry to overcome the barriers to increased rooftop solar installation, which has been shown to reduce energy costs for our regional customers,” Horizon Power CEO Stephanie Unwin said.

Horizon Power operates 32 microgrids to help it supply 100,000 residents and 10,000 businesses in towns and remote communities.

The Onslow microgrid powered by 100% renewables is a “landmark step” towards bringing more renewables to Western Australia, according to Bill Johnston, Western Australia’s energy minister.

“This innovative project demonstrates how distributed energy resources can be safely integrated at the grid level, unlocking further benefits from Western Australia’s world-leading rooftop solar uptake,” Johnson said. 

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PXiSE, based in San Diego, is a Sempra Energy subsidiary and is partly owned by Mitsui & Co.

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  1. This suggests to me that this community needs about 5.2MWp total solar PV and about a 8MWh battery pack to keep this town on the micro-grid most of the time and off of the natural gas back up generator for most of the time. Right now it’s calculating out that the average home solar PV array is about 3kWp. Get 7kWp on all 850 roofs, larger roofs more panels and more output and one could expect an average of 29MWh/day or more. Use that additional 600kWp solar farm and store it in the the local battery that could be increased to 30 to 35MWh and get rid of the natural gas generator all together.