Essential Energy, which is responsible for building, operating and maintaining one of Australia’s largest electricity distribution networks, said that as part of plans to increase its system deployment stand-alone power supply (SPS), it has partnered with research and behavioral insights experts to better prepare customers and networks for the introduction of the systems.
Essential Energy, whose power grid covers 737,000 square kilometers and serves regional, rural and remote communities in 95% of New South Wales (NSW) and parts of southern Queensland, is studying the introduction of SPS in as part of its ongoing efforts to strengthen network efficiency and resilience.
The distributed grid service provider said SPS, typically a combination of solar PV panels, batteries and a backup generator, provides a continuous power solution without the need to be connected to the grid. Depending on size and power demand, the SPS can meet all electrical needs for residential households, telecommunications and agricultural sites.
Essential Energy said deploying the SPS can provide significant benefits to customers, especially those in regions and remote areas. Transitioning eligible customers to SPS-supplied power removes the “poles and wires” from traditional electrical infrastructure. This enables a significant reduction in costs which offers savings to all network users.
“The potential for savings through providing off-grid supply to some customers will also increase as the costs of solar panels, batteries and other technologies continue to fall,” he said.
Essential Energy’s executive general manager of corporate affairs, Chantelle Bramley, said moving to off-grid supply can also provide additional benefits such as reduced bushfire risk and integration of resilience in the network to withstand extreme weather conditions.
Bramley said the survey, which will be facilitated by Taverner Research Group (TRG) and The Behavioral Architects (TBA), will provide information to develop a detailed engagement strategy for potential SPS customers.
“This research will help us unpack our customers’ expectations and concerns regarding grid disconnection; how we can create a compelling customer proposition for the range of commercial and residential customers for which an SPS may be viable and what support Essential Energy will need to provide,” she said.
“While we understand the reliability and economic benefits of this technology, we need to step back and really understand what is important to our customers.
“We want to succeed in this transition and involve our customers in the development of these new offers.
“This technology has many benefits, but unless it delivers what customers want, we won’t get the kind of large-scale deployment we need to realize all of these benefits.”
Bramley said the behavioral insights research, which began this month with in-depth interviews with a range of clients, including farmers, large industries and residents who live on the “edge of the grid”, will involve qualitative and quantitative research.
Essential Energy has been studying SPS for a number of years, beginning in 2018 with the installation of a system on a property at the end of a 5.5 kilometer spur line near Bulahdelah on the North Coast. western New South Wales.
The branch line, which only served two customers, runs through a high bushfire risk area through a national park. In the nine years prior to installation, the property experienced over 25 outages. During the same period, Essential Energy spent over $100,000 on grid renovations and over $150,000 on vegetation management while receiving just over $1,000 per year in revenue from the two customers connected to the branch.
Essential Energy said it also deployed the SPS following the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires with systems installed at nine sites to support telecommunications towers and residential customers pending the full rebuild of the network.
As Essential Energy moves forward with its investigation, Western Australia (WA) regional utility Horizon Power continues its SPS rollout, announcing on Thursday that it has partnered with telecommunications giant Telstra to run a mobile tower remote from an overhead power supply to an off-grid power supply.
In what it described as an “Australian first”, Horizon Power last week installed the SPS at Mount Ney, east of Esperance.
The SPS, delivered by Boundary Power, comprises an 8 kW solar panel coupled to a 16.8 kW battery backed by a 26 kW diesel generator. It is capable of delivering 12 kW of continuous power.
Horizon Power’s chief executive, Stephanie Unwin, said the installation will allow the telecommunications tower to continue operating in the event of a natural disaster and an interruption in power supply through poles and wires.
“Bushfires, floods and cyclones can have a devastating impact on our network infrastructure, which powers other essential services like these mobile phone towers,” she said.
“We know how important reliable communications are in emergency situations and how frightening it can be for our customers and employees when phone lines are down.”
The facility is part of the state government’s $10 million Renew the Regions Standalone Power Systems project, which is due for completion by mid-2022.
WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston said that in addition to this scheme, the state government has committed to providing 1,000 SPS over five years in the WA region.
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