The demand for street and household lights motivated investment in building electricity generation and the infrastructure to deliver ‘main’ or centralised forms of electricity to communities.
This happened in West Australia in the early parts of the 20th century just as it happened around the rest of the world.
Perth got its first street light in 1893, just 13 years after the first lights in New York City. Kalgoorlie was the second location to install electric lights, at about the time of the first gold rush in the area. Similarly across the state, as local governments became able, streetlights and small localised DC power plants were built.
Electricity was established and connected throughout Perth, Fremantle and surrounding suburbs. In most cases this was small low voltage DC generation systems and low voltage distribution type poles and wires networks.
The East Perth power station was built in 1916 and was the first high voltage AC generation plant in the South West (6.3kV to 20kV). It required high voltage transmission network connecting Perth, Armadale and Midland to the East Perth power station. East Perth was later relocated close to the coal fuel source in Collie, where we still get electricity from today. The first transmission lines were as small as 6kV, but now our transmission lines are as high as 330kV, but also include 66kV and 132kV.
There continued to be pockets of DC local generation systems owned and operated in local communities such as Northam or Katanning. Throughout and immediately following the Second World War centralised generation become established and much of the transmission and distribution infrastructure connecting our communities was built. It was an enormous effort. It included the building of power stations still in use today (Collie, Muja and Kwinana), and the transmission lines to Albany, Margaret River, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie. This is the backbone of our existing network.
High voltages such as those transported by transmission lines cannot be used in our homes - nor would having such high voltages in our suburbs be safe. Transformers at the generation end step up the voltages, and transformers in our suburbs and cities step it down for it to be used by our appliances. The poles and wires both above and underground that are in our streets are commonly known as the distribution system. It includes lines that carry between 240V to 33 kV. There is over 92 500 km of distribution system powerlines in the south west corner of WA. Initially this system carried electricity one way, from the sources of generation to the households. Now however, with introduction of solar power, this system can carry electricity away from your home for use by our community.