An Ergon Energy study has found that microgrids provide positive social value and benefits to communities after natural disasters.

The study simulated the conditions after a natural disaster, such as a cyclone, and explored the use of microgrids to seek if a town could operate independently of the grid.

University of Queensland Masters student, Nick Beere, undertook the research using Cairns in Queensland as the basis for the six-month study.

Mr Beere looked at what would happen in the hypothetical situation of the transmission network south of Cairns being lost and only local feeder level generation was included. For the purposes of his study he assumed everything from the sub-transmission system upwards had lost supply or was unavailable due to failure, natural disaster or other impact.

He then simulated them for different times of the year to characterise different load and weather events as they would result in different operating conditions for the local network.

The study was born out of Ergon’s Microgrid Strategy, produced in 2014.

In the case study, a large drop in fault current was found, which meant one of the existing protection devices would not operate, and so Ergon would need dynamic protection settings that could change based on the operating condition they were in.

Protection systems and their finely-tuned settings are critical in safely running electricity networks. Faults or malfunctions with network equipment can mean more than just an annoying power interruption- they can cause hugely expensive damage or risk to human life if protection systems don’t operate correctly.

Network Strategy and Policy Engineer, Don McPhail, said “In terms of costs, the study found the case doesn’t stack up for Ergon presently, but in the case of restoration response, such as after a cyclone, there is a positive social value and broader benefits to the community.”

With more people than ever hooked up to solar, and batteries set to grow, a microgrid could make perfect sense for a regional city like Cairns in Queensland’s Far North, especially as a back-up after a cyclone.

The threat of cyclone impact is always a looming one each summer in the northern half of coastal Australia, so network resilience is thinking ahead that’s bound to interest many resident North and Far North Queenslanders.

“Going forward we are looking to continue to work on the recommendations in the strategy document, as well as a number of the recommendations that Nick has made in his thesis,” Mr McPhail said.

“His methodology and the insights from its application have been valuable in starting us down this journey, and initiating a number of conversations or covering off some concerns, like regulatory, legal and protection system related factors.”

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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