Birdsville, Windorah, Burketown to test microgrid energy systems

Grants unlock microgrid opportunities in regional and remote Australia

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Camel power sculpture at the entrance to Birdsville.

Camel power sculpture at the entrance to Birdsville.

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Diesel generation is one of the largest cost burdens borne by remote communities, which has focused a lot of interest on a feasibility study into microgrids to take place at Birdsville, Windorah, Burketown, Mapoon, and Cape York.

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Diesel generation is one of the largest cost burdens borne by remote communities, which has focused a lot of interest on a feasibility study into microgrids to take place at Birdsville, Windorah, Burketown, Mapoon, and Cape York.

The Ergon Energy project will receive a $409,000 grant under round one of the federal government's new Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund,

The study will assess opportunities to enable the communities to reduce their dependence on diesel generation and transition to microgrids that also utilise distributed renewable energy systems.

A microgrid could deliver a number of benefits including improved reliability and resilience of the energy system, and reduced bills for the local community.

At the moment, the electricity supply for the five communities comes from dedicated diesel power stations, supplemented by customer-owned solar photovoltaic systems.

The study intends to identify the optimal energy supply mix to allow for "diesel off" periods and will explore the feasibility of additional solar PV and other technology solutions.

Birdsville and Windorah have each been home to other alternate energy projects, both of which are in the process of being decommissioned.

It's understood this is because of the high operational and maintenance costs of the 85 kilowatt geothermal plant at Birdsville and five 26 kW solar concentration dishes installed at Windorah.

Both are owned and operated by Ergon Energy. It operated the low temperature geothermal station between 1992 and 2017, supplying power into Birdsville's isolated mini-grid.

According to its web page, as the power station approached the end of its working life, Ergon began looking into a replacement geothermal system.

"After some evaluation, and taking into account the rapid changes occurring in the distributed energy market, it became clear that solar PV and battery storage systems were the best option for both the local community and our network," it said.

Some 17 microgrid projects in regional and indigenous communities have received over $19 million in grant funding under round one of the $50.4m Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund.

The projects are located across Australia from very remote indigenous communities in Western Australia to rural farming communities in Victoria.

The studies will look at whether establishing a microgrid, or upgrading existing off-grid technologies, would better meet the electricity supply needs of regional and remote communities.

Another grant worth $968,500 has gone to Yurika Pty Ltd to assess the commercial viability of deploying microgrids across a portfolio of commercial and industrial regional sites, including airports, ports, industrial estates, state development areas and agricultural businesses.

Locations include Toowoomba, Townsville, Cairns, Fraser Coast, and the Bromelton State Development Areas.

If implemented, a microgrid could deliver a number of benefits including avoidance of costly network upgrades and a more reliable and cost-effective energy supply.

The Queensland Farmers Federation has received $655,000 to assess options for microgrids to offer a more stable network, increase network utilisation, increase the uptake of on-farm solar energy and cut costs in the rural and irrigation sector.

If implemented, a microgrid could deliver a number of benefits including decreased costs associated with energy generation and consumption, clarity for future electrical infrastructure investment decisions, and increased installation of smart meters which will allow better monitoring of energy.

It will be taking place in Mackay, Pioneer Valley, Stanthorpe, St George, and Bundaberg, as well as in the Hunter Valley in NSW.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said initiatives such as this consolidate regional Australia as a great place to live, work and invest outside metropolitan areas.

"Our regional and remote communities need an affordable energy supply they can rely on to ensure local businesses can grow and thrive, which means more jobs and more economic activity," he said.

"We need to be looking at options that will help lower cost of living pressures on families and businesses in not only the cities but in the regions, especially as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said the grants were an important step towards unlocking investment in microgrids and improving the technologies that will ensure energy reliability and affordability in regional Australia.

"Microgrid technology is becoming increasingly cost effective, creating the opportunity for a reliable, low cost, off-grid supply to our regional communities and industries," Mr Taylor said.

"This funding will enable many communities to realise the potential of innovative technologies or distributed energy resources, like solar and batteries, or reduce their reliance on costly diesel generation.

"Lower cost energy is crucial to creating jobs in regional communities."

A full list of successful projects under round one is available at: www.business.gov.au/microgrids

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