When is a microgrid project not really a microgrid?
Australia is making some big moves in energy innovation, and their latest project will test an off-grid system that will become the country’s largest solar and battery project.
|DeGrussa Mine. Credit: ARENA|
The project is a 10.6 megawatt (MW) solar plant with 6 MW of battery storage at Sandfire Resources’ DeGrussa copper mine, 900 km northeast of Perth in Western Australia — and is being supported by $15 million from the the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and $20.9 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
“This is an important project showing the significant potential for off-grid renewables in regional and remote Australia,” said CEFC CEO Oliver Yates in a statement. “The solar and battery storage combination offers the opportunity to reduce the reliance on diesel-powered energy in remote area mining.”
The project at the DeGrussa mine will combine off-grid high-capacity solar and an existing diesel-fired power station. It will include the installation of 34,080 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels covering more than 20 hectares, using single axis tracking technology. The facility is expected to become operational in early 2016, when it will be used to provide power to copper-gold producer Sandfire, offsetting about 5 million liters of diesel fuel year, and abating more than 12,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.
“Energy can account for around 30 percent of operating costs for remote area and off-grid Australian miners, which rely on diesel-fired generators,” CEFC said in a statement. “Rising production costs, global competition and the drive to improve overall environmental performance are motivating leading resource companies to look to the potential of renewables as a means of making energy cost savings, increasing the energy security of their operations, and achieving an overall improvement in environmental outcomes.”
Australia has innovated in this area because of its location, and the fact that they have many remote cities. Although the United States has not yet ventured into similar projects, there is a vast microgrid system being established across the United States. Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) spokesperson Bob Gibson told Smart Grid News that microgrids may be the closest parallel to what Australia is doing, though “not a close comparison.”
“Most microgrids — featuring a mix of distributed energy including more solar and energy storage — will be connected to the grid, designed to add greater resiliency and flexibility to portions of the grid, especially self-contained ‘communities’ like college campuses, corporate campuses, industrial complexes, hospitals, fire/police/safety complexes — critical loads that need strong back-up in case the grid goes down,” Gibson explained. “As prices of solar and (especially) storage continue to come down, investing in this degree of resiliency will become more economic. Microgrids are still more a concept than a reality, though many of the cited locations already have emergency back-up power through diesel generators.”
Because the United States grid is more advanced than the Australian grid — according to Gibson, around 99 percent of the U.S. is on the grid — and because it offers some of the cheapest electricity in the world, there is little need for systems like Australia’s.
“I would be very surprised if you’d find an energy intensive load like a copper mine operating off grid in the U.S., though some extraction industry of some type in remotest Alaska might,” Gibson explained. “Diesel fueled electricity is really expensive; if the grid is available that would always be the choice.”
The military has been using microgrid systems for years, but only in some of their bases.
“Military installations in remote areas are natural microgrids and are using more renewables as part of their energy mix,” Gibson told Smart Grid News. “The military is focused on lessening dependence on fossil fuels to gain greater energy security (control of the supply, and a desire to lessen dependence on fuel that has to be transported).”
However, there are many remote areas of the world — outside the U.S. — and Ivor Frischknecht, CEO of AERNA, said this project is a look into the future of mines around the world — and can be seen as an example of innovative technology for any project around the world.
“Remote industries in Australia currently rely on 1.2 GW of power from diesel fuel that is prone to price volatility and supply interruptions. Renewables are already competitive with fossil fuels in many off-grid applications, offering a strong, secure and reliable alternative to trucked-in diesel,” Mr Frischknecht said.
The facility was developed and will be build by juwi, a renewable energy company, and the solar power produced will be purchased by Sandfire Resources.
“The system is at the forefront of transforming the remote power generation sector and the resource industry into one with a sustainable future,” said juwi Australia’s Managing Director Andrew Drager in a statement.
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