WA looks to solar-storage micro-grids to replace poles and wires after bushfires

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The West Australian government and its state-owned network operatorWestern Power is facing what has been described as the biggest restoration job in its history following the January bush fires, which were sparked by lightning and damaged or destroyed 873 power poles, 77 transmission poles, 44 transformers and up to 50 kilometres of overhead power lines.

Energy minister Mike Nahan said options being considered for replacing the damaged infrastructure included using putting the power lines underground, or not replacing the lines at all and using distributed energy such as solar and storage.

The main grid in the south-west corner of the state appears to be particularly vulnerable to damage from storms, lightning and bush fires, and the remoteness of some towns leaves them exposed.

Western Power is already looking at replacing a long thin network to the mining town of Ravensthorpe and replacing it with a renewables-based micro-grid. Nahan suggested a similar approach may be used in the areas damaged by the latest bushfire. The section in the network is one of the oldest in the grid, and was built in the 1950s.

“(Western Power) is also looking at replacing poles and lines and making decisions about whether we do not replace those lines, but (instead) have distributed generation, solar and other things,” Nahan said during visit to the area.

According to ABC news, the bushfire destroyed 168 homes, including most of Yarloop. At the height of the blaze, about 3,000 homes were without power, and earlier this week Western Power was still working to restore electricity to 500 of those properties.

Nahan said Western Power would shoulder the costs of repair, but may be unable to fund a similar scale repair if another devastating even occurs.




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  • Ray Miller

    We are paying a small fortune for this ‘Grid’ but it seems when we have a major natural disaster the ability of the ‘grid’ to deliver is wanting and then it costs a small fortune to rebuild.

    Questions rightly need to be asked if the current ‘model’ of energy delivery is suitable and could a greater end user resilience be achieved at lower overall cost, and does it line up with the lower carbon emission goals?
    We cannot afford to keep the existing thinking which served us well in the past, it is not fit for purpose now or in the future.

    • Chris Fraser

      Regardless of whether the grid is above or below ground, we can anticipate the use of storage in new construction in future to improve fire resilience. If the storage is extensive enough, the grid can then be switched off at critical times before it can become part of the problem.

  • Ken Dyer

    In a bush fire the first casualty is almost always the electricity.

    Replacing poles and wires with a self contained mini grid servicing remote small towns just makes sense. A solar farm backed up by wind connected to a battery array, with a generator for backup could be contained in a small area adjacent to the town, and could be protected by fire breaks.

    Town wires could be placed underground, and if there is surplus power generated as will almost always be the case, then it can be fed back into the wide area grid. Should that wide area grid be compromised by fire or natural disaster, then it will not have the devastating consequences that a centralised power grid structure is exposed to.

  • Rob G

    Same deal for those in Western Sydney, that were without power for days after a big storm. There will come a time (pretty soon) where one or two will have the full battery setup and all the neighbours will be knocking on the door for a hot cup of tea and some freezer storage…. we will learn.

  • Nonie Jekabsons

    The monopoly on power has been a headache for rural people for decades. Huge swathes of bushland cleared and maintained free of vegetation to service an expensive grid. Indeed a proportion of bushfires are STARTED by faults in the grid. We have the technology to replace this outdated system with a safer and more efficient one. Neighbourhood storage is the way to go – the latest fire is an opportunity to make the changes, and save bushland and homes in the process.