Alternative technology is offering innovative ways to power the lives of customers, and it’s also providing opportunities for WA businesses to emerge and diversify.
When Western Power first looked at trialling stand-alone power systems in the Great Southern back in 2016, the first challenge we had was finding and installing the technology we required.
Although stand-alone power systems (SPS) were not new technology, they tended to be used for niche purposes or singular customers.
“Though the technology has been around for 15 to 20 years, the use of SPS by a network provider was new,” says Margot Hammond, our Stand-Alone Power Systems Program Manager.
“Historically customers looking for an alternative to the network could purchase a SPS unit from the private market and remote Australian communities were often supplied by renewable power programs.
“The trial was a first and if it succeeded, which it did, we were looking at a different type of long-term requirement for the units.”
Local engineering firm EMC designed and installed the first six trial units, working with Western Power to commission them.
Fast forward four years and the SPS program has scaled up considerably with 52 units installed across WA in 2020 - delivered in part by WA companies Hybrid Systems Australia and BayWA r.e. Australia Pty Ltd - and a further 100 units for next year .
“It has not been a straightforward process,” says Margot. “We’re dealing with a whole new large-scale level of design, procurement, installation and maintenance. Even though we’re only talking about 100 units for the next deployment, there’s never been anything previously done on this scale by a utility.
“We’ve learnt a lot and really had to embrace a trial and error approach.”
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Growing a local industry
The SPS program has been a boon for local suppliers, who’ve had to upskill and work closely with us in order to service the growing SPS market - now estimated to be worth $30-40 million per year.
“We’ve supported a genuine market building opportunity,” says our Senior Category Manager for Emerging Technology, Peter Doyle.
“A couple of years ago we had zero suppliers with zero direct SPS experience.
“We went to market and selected partners with experience in related areas like batteries that could deliver. Then we worked very closely with them through the first roll out of 52 units. We now have several organisations that have successfully delivered SPS on scale.”
Margot says it’s been a steep learning curve for all.
“For some of these businesses it is the first time they’re working with a company as large as Western Power, where elements such as our safety and health requirements are rigorous and quite different from the requirements of selling to individual clients.
“Plus, along the way, we’ve been learning about the entire process, we’ve gone from being completely new to SPS with the trial to now rolling out hundreds of units.
“So there has been a lot of research and development that we’ve been going through with our service providers.”
Image: Stand-alone Power System in Tambellup
SPS future looks strong
With the next 100 SPS scheduled for installation on WA properties next year, and further deployments expected in the future, Margot and Peter say the SPS market will need even more suppliers to meet this demand.
Add to that other states who have been watching WA’s success of SPS - like Queensland, South Australia and parts of NSW, who are likely to follow suit.
“To fulfil even just our expected SPS program, we need to keep supporting businesses to build capability and move into these products and services,” says Peter.
“We’re in the process of creating an approved panel of go-to suppliers which will help guarantee them future work.”
Doyle says the businesses have had to be flexible to find ways to service the SPS market.
“We need businesses that can design, procure, install and service these units. Ideally, we’d like end-to-end service providers, and we now have a couple of those.
“We’ve also identified that some service providers could provide partial solutions, so we suggested that they join and work as part of a consortium. This is a great outcome as it helps them get business, and it helps us achieve a more seamless end-to-end service.”
Peter says that although most of the components for SPS units are currently sourced overseas due where they are manufactured, “we’re keeping an eye on the progress of potential local product suppliers, so when the time is right, we can support those suppliers and foster the development of engineering and manufacturing in the emerging technologies space in WA.”
Margot says SPS has been an incredible project to work on.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been so worth it. We’ve seen regional customers, mainly farmers who run their own business enjoy better quality and reliable energy supply and we’ve helped build local capabilities and seen a new specialised industry emerge right here in WA.
“It’s not often you get to work on a project that offers so many benefits, so it’s been extremely rewarding on a number of levels.”