People living in regional and remote Western Australia will soon be able to embrace clean energy technologies and reduce their energy bills, with Horizon Power rolling out industry-leading technology to create smart, integrated, and cleaner energy systems across the state from early 2023.
The state government-owned power provider is deploying a technology system that enables safe, stable, and large-scale integration of customer and utility energy resources, making it easier to connect to solar and energy storage and providing a pathway to decarbonised energy systems.
The energy management technology, called a Distributed Energy Resources Management System or DERMS, enables utility owned energy resources, such as power stations, solar farms, and batteries, to be safely integrated with distributed customer-owned energy resources, such as rooftop solar, batteries, and electric vehicles.
The DERMS can monitor generation from both customers and the utility in real-time and use predictive analytics, including weather pattern analysis, to forecast changes in generation and demand and make constant adjustments so the energy system remains stable.
Horizon Power General Manager Technology & Digital Transformation, Ray Achemedei, likens the technology to the conductor of an orchestra, because the system coordinates generation from the different power sources of gas, large-scale solar and rooftop solar.
“DERMS is the conductor and the orchestrator of the flow of energy throughout the network, both utility and customer energy generation sources,” Mr Achemedei said.
“With approximately 60 per cent of Horizon Power’s energy systems currently dealing with limits on rooftop solar, deploying a distributed energy resources management system will increase solar access for our customers, lower their energy bills, and help reduce emissions.
“This deployment is ground-breaking as it enables rooftop solar, customer batteries, electric vehicles, centralised solar and batteries, and the traditional centralised power station to all work together in a coordinated way to maximise renewable energy supply, without adversely impacting power quality and reliability. “It is the technology that will underpin the transition to 100 percent renewable towns.”
Solving issues around surplus customer solar
The technology will be deployed in Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in early 2023 and rolled out progressively across Horizon Power’s other regional microgrids by mid-2024.
Kimberley MLA, Divina D’Anna, said it was an exciting opportunity for the Broome community, as it would allow more households to access rooftop solar and embrace other clean energy technologies, including battery energy storage and electric vehicles.
“The Kimberley is one of the sunniest regions in Western Australia, so this is a great opportunity for the community to be leaders in the transition to net zero emissions by 2050,” Ms D’Anna said.
The rollout follows a ground-breaking, Australian-first demonstration which saw the regional Western Australian town of Onslow powered with 100 per cent renewable energy. The Onslow microgrid is one of 34 microgrids that Horizon Power operates servicing homes, businesses, and communities across regional and remote Western Australia, and was the trial site for DERMS.
The result is that the microgrid accommodates three and a half times the amount of solar than previously possible, because the risk of outages has been mitigated. “That’s an enormous benefit because it means customers can leverage their solar, as much as the sun allows, and DERMS manages the system to allow that to happen,” Mr Achemedei said.
“Historically, we have been massively constrained across the majority of our microgrids in our ability to allow customers to install solar, with approximately 60 per cent of Horizon Power’s energy systems currently dealing with limits on rooftop solar.
“DERMS solves a big problem that a lot of organisations in the energy industry are facing at the moment, which is, surplus customer solar is creating problems for the grid’s stability and security. “The reason being is these systems were designed based on a model that’s over a 100 years’ old when there was a unidirectional flow of energy, whereas now with rooftop solar, it’s bidirectional.”
Tackling the challenges of the energy transition
Most power grids were designed to push power in one direction, from the utility scale generator to the individual users, but rooftop solar generators push power in the other direction, from the home or business back into the grid.
By its nature, solar power fluctuates day to day, and even minute to minute, and excess solar generation can overload the network and potentially cause outages. Alternatively, rapid drops in the amount of solar power going back into the network – such as when a cloud passes overhead and reduces generation – can cause it to shut down if not enough power is moving through it.
“Spring days are typically the worst days. Moderate temperature, clear blue skies, massive amounts of solar energy production but then demand is typically low because it’s pleasant and you don’t need your aircon powering away to cool your house,” Mr Achemedei said. “We are now transforming energy systems across regional and remote Western Australia to accommodate new fuels, new generation, new technologies, and the new ways in which energy is used.
“We’re tackling the challenges of the energy transition head on – from centralised to decentralised; one-way to bi-directional, multi-directional flows of electricity; fossil-fuels to a decarbonised system; utility-led to customer and community driven. “It’s great news for customers who are getting the benefit of reduced power bills because they can feed their excess solar back into the network.”
Kenn Donohoe, Chief Executive Officer of Ashburton Shire, where the Onslow demonstration project is located, said his community has embraced the change, with a lot of residents taking up solar generation now that they have the option.
“During the prime summertime season during that build-up to the wet season, it’s not unusual for temperatures to be well into the 40 degrees celsius range. So, we’re a high consumer of electricity, particularly for air-conditioning,” Mr Donohoe said.
“The community has really embraced this. This project has been such a change to liveability for young families in reducing power costs. “Here’s this little town within Australia really showing what Australia can do as a community and showing the world.”