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From pole butts to PowerBanks: 5 things I learnt from being an energy innovator

Fiona Bishop

By Fiona Bishop
Executive Manager, Change & Innovation

When I first took on the Change & Innovation portfolio two years ago, there wasn’t a handbook, user guide or well-worn path for innovation at Western Power. The task was simply: Figure out how we can service our customers, stakeholders and business processes better by challenging norms, experimenting with new ideas and being bold to ensure we are a key player in Western Australia’s energy future.

We recently held an Innovation Expo for our staff to reflect on how we’re thinking differently to create a dynamic business model that puts customers at its heart and delivers energy solutions that resonate with the community.

The event had me taking stock about where we are heading and why customers are going to stick with the Western Power grid moving forward – as the alluring, yet often misunderstood, ‘off-grid’ narrative continues to gain momentum.

Here’s 5 things I’ve learnt about innovating within a decades-old electricity grid and how customers will actually be the big winners from our future focus:

Classic photo of the old Western Power control centre

1. Experience matters!

We have a rich history of innovation. Western Power started off as a gas company in 1883. We are proud of our role as the steward of a grid that continues to be a foundation of prosperity for the State. Innovation has been constant as we’ve progressed through the decades and adapted to the new tech of the era. Plus we have some of the smartest energy minds under one roof.

Farmers looking at the stand-alone power system on their property

2. Stand-alone power systems can live many lives

I knew they were beneficial in terms of providing better power reliability, and as an alternative to building and maintaining costly lines, but had completely missed that stand-alone power systems can be relocated as often as necessary during their lifecycle! The kits can be recycled or reused if they are no longer required at their original location. This is not possible with traditional network solutions.

A Western Power crew member changing a power pole

3. Opportunity comes at every level

An exciting invention has been developed by our depot crews in Mandurah – an opportunity that could be a revenue driver in future that helps underwrite the cost of network building. Crews traditionally engaged in a somewhat clunky process of moving a forklift forward and back to get old pole butts into a skip bin. The crews have prototyped a device that is clamped onto the skip bin and assists in safely and smoothly removing the pole butt into the skip bin. It’s those simple ideas that can often lead to the biggest wins.

Western Power's Design Consultancy electrical distribution network design, engineering and consulting for all construction projects

4. We have more to offer in new markets

Case in point: our Engineering & Design Consultancy. Launched in August last year, this business-in-a-business is set up to deliver to customers' needs using Western Power's extensive engineering expertise. They design grid connections - electrical engineering and solar, battery and embedded generation solutions. With dozens of sales projects won and projects delivered so far, they are generating lots of value for the WA community.

PowerBank shared community battery in Meadow Springs, Mandurah, Western Australia

5. PowerBanks are awesome!

I knew about our trial (with partner Synergy) in Meadow Springs where solar panels on people's homes generate extra energy, which is captured by the PowerBank shared community battery for later use. What I didn't know was how the trial is helping us size future community PowerBank solutions that can reduce stress on transformers in the grid and allow us to defer grid upgrades - making energy more affordable for all, not just the PowerBank users. We’re already planning for the next wave. And importantly, if you’re a customer thinking about putting a battery on your home to store excess solar energy, why wouldn’t you wait to see if PowerBank comes to your area and let us take on the administration and cost of installing the battery?

I feel like we’re only at the start and there’s more innovative energy projects on the way. In the meantime, browse the range of projects and trials we’re currently undertaking for some more inspiration.

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