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SPS: The regional game-changer

Stand-alone power systems are giving rural customers better power

By Margot Hammond

It's an exciting time in energy with new legislation enabling Western Power to deploy stand-alone power systems (SPS) to regional and remote customers. Margot Hammond explains why the use of SPS will be rewarding for customers and the network.

Our network is transforming, and we have begun to integrate a range of renewables and emerging technologies into the grid – including SPS.

The use of SPS is an exciting and innovative approach to energy supply that uses renewable energy to address reliability challenges experienced by our regional and remote customers.  It also provides a more economical alternative to replacing poles and wires in many low population density rural areas.

Currently, more than 50 per cent of the overhead distribution network services less than three per cent of customers and our modelling shows that we can install thousands of SPS units over the next 30 years, avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars in replacing poles and wires.

And now with the passing of the Electricity Industry Amendment Bill 2019 by State Parliament, for the first time we can use SPS and storage devices as part of the South West Interconnected System.

This builds on our first SPS trial in 2016, which significantly improved power reliability and quality for customers with more than 90 per cent of electricity generated from them during the trial.

SPS unit in Bodallin

We certainly have come a long way since I started working on the trial in 2015, where our objectives were to understand how customers felt about being supplied energy through an alternative to poles and wires, to measure system performance, and identify any regulatory barriers to using SPS as a solution where it made sense to do so.

A lot of research was undertaken prior to the trial and I spoke with several Australian and New Zealand organisations to get an understanding of their SPS experience. Their feedback was that managing a positive customer experience was essential for success, as was working with suppliers with an excellent track record.

Having now been involved in several SPS deployments with our customers, that advice has proven not only true, but essential.

We’ll know that we’ve succeeded with our SPS strategy when our regional and rural customers can seamlessly use energy to power their everyday activities. Our trial customers say they no longer have to worry about long outages which has significantly improved their daily lives. These results are very promising for our future deployment.

Added to that is the ability to remove power lines from their properties, freeing up cropping space and reducing the risk of hitting assets with machinery. Plus, SPS units mitigate bushfire risk through the removal of long powerlines. These are all major and tangible benefits for our customers.

Being part of all of this is incredibly rewarding.

Power lines stretching out to the regions were once considered to be the lifeblood of our regional communities, however, new technologies such as SPS are changing that, creating significant benefits for Western Power as well as the communities we serve.

Five years after we started working on the first trial, we are now in the middle of installing 52 SPS units in our Round 1 project and recruiting the next 100 or so customers for Round 2.

It’s an exciting and challenging time as we rapidly learn and adapt to technology and anticipate changes and improvements that we can incorporate into the design and deployment of SPS. This has included designing for a future fleet of SPS units, right through to working out how to protect the SPS units from wandering cows. While this technology isn’t new, it is new for a utility to use it on the scale we intend to.

Our connections with other utilities across Australia continue to be important, particularly during the devastating fires experienced across the eastern seaboard this summer. We are sharing our insights with them to collaborate, build their own knowledge and potentially supply SPS units to their customers – benefiting more  than just our WA community.

The future for SPS is now, bringing benefits to our customers and our State, and is an excellent tangible example of how new technology is successfully shifting us towards a more modular grid.

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