By Jack Clarke
As you’d expect, public attention was initially focused on survival, support for affected communities and recovery efforts. In the aftermath the blame games began – discussion centered around climate change induced extremes and the immediate need for decarbonization, whilst the Federal government pushed back, arguing it was a “greenie” philosophy that created all the ‘fuel to the fire’ in the first place.
Whatever you believe in the political discourse, it was a time that left many Australian’s reflecting on what the future holds for this country. How resilient is the “lucky country” to large environmental shocks? Is it time to approach land management differently? Is my water, power and food supply a given, or do I need to consider that frequent environmental events are becoming increasingly the norm and plan backup supply accordingly?
For those working in the energy sector, you might ask the question about our power network. Can I rely on my grid supply? As a residential consumer, commercial business or large industrial user, will I have power at the times when I need it most?
The most recent bushfire events saw interconnectors disconnect as fires destroyed transmission lines, islanding huge parts of the NEM, and even individual generators like Lower Tumut in the Snowy Hydro scheme being forced to disconnect after becoming engulfed by the fire front.
In total, the bushfires that swept across Australia this year were estimated to be responsible for more than 80,000 outages across the NEM according to Energy Networks Australia, which interestingly points to Stand Alone Power Systems (SAPS) as part of the solution.
SAPS can be grid connected or isolated systems, but in either case the benefit is that power supply is uninterrupted in the event the grid goes down. These systems come with higher costs due to the need for embedded generation, switchgear, control systems and often storage, but proponents are seeing the benefits of being resilient especially in areas where grid stability is increasingly called into question, if not outright failing.
SAPS systems have been trialled and debated extensively in California following repeated extreme bushfire events. Solutions discussed include better sensor networks, buried transmission lines and other novel solutions to try to keep the lights on in affected rural communities. Some proponents are suggesting that distributed SAPS, through reducing sag on power lines during heatwaves, can even help prevent some bushfires from occurring in the first place.
SAPS are currently being utilised across Australia in fringe-of-grid applications, remote communities and are increasingly being considered by rural towns for resilience purposes. For example in WA, Western Power reports uninterrupted power supply during flood events in locations where it rolled out its fringe-of-grid RAPS trials. These units have been operational since 2016, and the impact and lessons learnt from the deployment of the SAPS, as well as the SETuP program (solar PV-diesel hybrid SAPS), are beginning to be shared in the market.
Energy Estate’s Simon Corbell will be speaking at Informa’s 7th Annual Off-Grid & Stand Alone Power Conference on 25 & 26 February in Sydney. He will discuss the role of governments and regulators in supporting and facilitating the current energy transformation, in order to achieve a more distributed and renewable energy market. Simon will unpack some of the key opportunities SAPS and distributed generation may hold in the transition, and how governments can encourage these developments to create a more resilient power system in Australia. The SAPS-focused conference will also address project learnings from sites as diverse as Tonga, Uluru, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Yackandandah.