Western Power says it is seeking tenders from third parties that could include solar and storage and community energy as it seeks to avoid spending $30 million in one of the high-growth areas of its network.
The government-owned network operator says it is seeking expressions of interest from businesses and community groups who may be able to provide “non-network” solutions to manage electricity demand in the Mandurah region, south of Perth.
Mandurah has one of the highest rates of population growth in the country, and over the next five years demand is forecast to place pressure on electricity infrastructure in the region. It also has among the highest rates of solar penetration in the country.
Western Power’s head of asset management Seán Mc Goldrick, says that more than $30 million of network investment would be required by 2020/21 under current design protocols to meet demand.
But this could be avoided if other solutions, such as combining solar and storage, could meet that demand more cost effectively.
“Our current forecasts show a steady increase in electricity demand as the Mandurah region continues to grow and normally Western Power would install extra network capacity to keep pace with that demand,” McGoldrick said in a statement.
“However, non-network solutions, such as communities better managing or reducing energy consumption or that involve solar systems and battery storage, may be more cost efficient and provide greater flexibility over the long-term.”
McGoldrick says the challenge of meeting a community’s power needs was no longer a job for a central planning group. Indeed, last month, McGoldrick unveiled a vision where networks such as Western Power are broken up into “modular” units, where some towns and communities operate as micro-grids.
McGoldrick says it is important that communities and individual electricity consumers have a say in how and where they will access their energy.
“These days, meeting demand for power is a collaborative effort that involves the entire community,” he said. “We can’t just install new transformers, larger poles and longer wires, and expect our customers will be happy for them to possibly sit idle.
“We are embracing opportunities, such as which exists in the Mandurah region, to test alternative methods and technologies to reduce peak demand and provide more cost effective ways to deliver electricity to our customers.”