WA launches the nation’s largest microgrid

Brandon How

Western Australia has launched Australia’s largest microgrid, shortly after the state announced that its residential solar output has surpassed that of its largest power station.

The $15 million investment is the state’s fourth microgrid and will supply power to 1,500 residents and an estimated 100,000 visitors.

When it was announced in 2016 the microgrid, which runs entirely on wind and solar energy, was supposed to be fully operational by June 2021, but was hit with several delays caused by cyclones and the COVID pandemic.

WA’s state-owned energy company Western Power estimates that the microgrid will eliminate 80 per cent of outages experienced by Kalbarri, a town in the west of the state.

At peak capacity the Kalbarri microgrid can supply nearly 5MW and is also equipped with a battery which provides at least 3.5MWh of energy storage. However, the microgrid is still connected to the main grid as a backup.

A microgrid is an electricity network that can operate independently from the main grid. It can be used to improve the reliability of a power supply to a remote area by generating electricity closer to the point of use. This avoids the need for long power lines that are more susceptible to damage.

A 2020 report tabled in the WA parliament identified microgrid technologies as presenting the state with a new export industry opportunity. At the time, the global microgrid industry was valued at over $35 billion.

WA Minister for Energy Bill Johnston said the launch of the microgrid was an essential upgrade to the state’s electricity infrastructure.

“Improving how energy is delivered in regional areas and delivering better power reliability for Western Australians is an important part of the McGowan Government’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap,” Mr Johnston said.

“The Kalbarri microgrid is an important step towards improving power reliability for the local community. It also paves the way in delivering greater renewable energy solutions across WA, particularly in regional areas, as we move forward in achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”

Shire of Northampton chief executive Garry Keeffe said there had already been benefits for residents from the microgrid.

“Residents have already seen its effectiveness with no power outages experienced where In other parts of the shire there have been a large number of power outages,” Mr Keeffe told InnovationAus.

“Shire is extremely grateful for the microgrid and will no doubt be a catalyst for other towns to have a similar type of system to resolve their power outages issues.”

The launch of the Kalbarri microgrid comes after the state government announced that rooftop solar on homes and businesses had increased by 600 per cent since 2011.

Rooftop solar now produces 508MW more than WA’s largest power station. WA has the third highest proportion of homes fitted with solar panels behind South Australia and Queensland.

However, the rapid uptake of solar in WA has increased the instability of demand on the grid. To mitigate this risk the WA government has introduced the Emergency Solar Management rules, which starts on February 14. The rule will require the electricity output of all new rooftop solar panels to be capable of being remotely controlled.

Editor’s note: This story originally incorrectly stated that WA has the second highest proportion of homes fitted with solar panels. It actually has the third highest proportion. The story has been updated.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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