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By Stephanie Barker, Assistant Editor, Utility magazine

Endeavour Energy has officially launched the Bawley Point and Kioloa community microgrid, denoting a huge success for the utility’s plan to improve grid reliability in the area. We spoke to Endeavour Energy’s Future Grid Strategy Manager, Dr James Hazelton, one of the key drivers of the project, to discuss the project and how distributed energy resources can be a fantastic resource during extreme weather events.

In March 2022, Endeavour Energy announced a plan to power 1000 homes in Bawley Point and Kioloa – two coastal towns about 250km south of Sydney – with subsidised solar panels and/or batteries to help create the first community microgrid of its kind in New South Wales. The microgrid was officially launched on 8 December 2023, marking a major milestone for the energisation of the project.

Securing electricity supply for remote areas

If you haven’t heard of Kioloa or Bawley Point, don’t worry – you’re not alone. These picturesque towns on the South Coast of New South Wales are home to only about 1,000 permanent residents, and are at the very southern tip of the Endeavour Energy network.

Rural and remote areas like these are more vulnerable to service interruption due to the long distances of overhead lines, and prevalence of storm and bushfires. This was one of several factors that led Endeavour Energy to designate this area a prime candidate for a microgrid installation.

Dr Hazelton explained, “We’ve always had a different level of reliability down there. The community can experience large swings in demand because it’s a popular holiday destination.

“[What we see is a big difference between] the average load versus what happens in the peak demand periods. As the population goes from around 1000 to over 4000, the load then goes from being about an average of 700kW to up to about 2.8MW in peak demand times. So it’s a four-times increase in load.”

Managing this increasing load and making good use of the community’s own generation resources was a major driver in establishing the microgrid. Endeavour Energy’s planning team investigated ways to manage the demand. “We were looking at a new zone substation further inland at Termeil, about 10km up the road. But the network part itself would actually be about 30km.

“If we built that substation, we’d still be relying on putting overhead power lines through that bushland, so we decided we’d look at other options other options and there was a lot of opportunity to work with community and better use their resources.

We had done one network battery system before and we decided that, particularly after the bushfires in 2020, that was an opportunity where the community was out of power for a long time and that resilience conversation really came up. Having been through tough times the community were very engaged and both willing to work with us and contribute to get a more reliable power supply,” Dr Hazelton explained.

And so the project became a case of two birds, one stone: helping to stabilise the grid during peak demand periods while also enabling a critical service should the area encounter extreme weather conditions.

Empowering communities with DER

Distributed energy resources (DER) are becoming recognised as one of the most critical resources for communities facing extreme weather conditions. DER are any energy resources that do not rely on the main grid to produce and distribute electricity.

During extreme weather events, rural and remote areas are often cut off from the main energy grid, as the transmission assets can be particularly vulnerable to extreme weather. Empowering communities with locally generated energy can be a lifesaving measure in these critical times.

Dr Hazelton said, “In the instance that we need it, as a community benefit or that a person doesn’t need the electricity that they have, we can send a control signal through our Distributed Energy Resource Management System to ask them to charge or discharge their batteries.

That can help us either extend the length through which we can island the network, or can help us better manage local supply and power quality. “Most of the time the time the DER is being used to reduce customers bills. In the instance that we need to call upon those customer owned assets participating in the program we will be able send a control signal though our.

“In terms of re-energizing the network we can do a lot of this locally now, and that allows new innovative solutions to happen. We’re not depending on the wider grid to provide power and all the kilometres of lines that run through the bushland. That has implications for resilience, but also in terms of sustainability and how customers can generate more.”

Planning ahead of extreme weather events

While not yet fully implemented, Endeavour Energy isworking to continue to improve the system as we learn from the project, and is keeping the community in the loop as to what is likely to occur with their power and devices. “We are looking to forecast events such as storms, just as we do for the rest of our network.

We would charge the batteries first, so that the community has as much local energy available as possible in the lead up to an event. Then when an upstream outage occurs on our main network we would re-energise from the large network battery and use customer’s DER to help extend and sustain the power for much longer duration.” Dr Hazelton said.

The project was developed through extensive community consultation, with locals providing critical insight and support not only for the project, but for helping others in the community via the sharing of resources. While this is achievable with a smaller community, replicating the project’s success at a larger scale may prove challenging.

Dr Hazelton said, “One of the most important parts of this project is how we’ve been working with the community to build this microgrid, together. We asked the community for their guidance on what they believed would be a fair subsidy to be paid by residents to be part of the program and how to make it inclusive.

“They wanted to see us put in something that was a bit fairer. So, we developed the social tier, which was solar subsidies for customers that couldn’t participate in the other program and were eligible for some concessional benefit – people like veterans, NDIS participants, pension and healthcare cardholders.

“All of those things fed into the program and I think we’ve built a lot of trust in doing it that way. “ This microgrid is really a win for the community, our customers, the network and environment. Microgrids are really the future of energy. It will change the way we approach the design and planning of the network. These solutions make our networks more resilient, creating islands of power that can support our communities when they need it the most.”

Assistant Editor, Utility magazine

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