How Horizon Power is powering regional communities

Smart meter customers, Horizon Power

There are approximately 274 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, and to deliver reliable power to these communities requires an innovative solution; and that’s exactly what Horizon Power is developing. We get the details about the unique challenges associated with supplying power to some of the most geographically remote sites in the country, and what Horizon Power is doing to solve the issue, from CEO Stephanie Unwin.

A number of the Aboriginal communities serviced by Horizon Power in regional Western Australia are situated in some of the most geographically remote places, hundreds of kilometres from urban centres. This means the ability to access existing power network infrastructure can vary. According to Horizon Power CEO Stephanie Unwin, add to this the challenge of extreme climatic conditions and the fact Horizon Power does not own and operate all of the power systems within the communities–they may be owned by independent energy providers, largely diesel generated–and you have a recipe for reduced power quality, safety and reliability issues. Moreover, with extreme temperatures, locals are using more and more energy, which means higher costs.

Horizon Power has a number of new and existing projects in Western Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities aimed at addressing these unique challenges to improve the power quality, safety and cost to these communities.

But how do they go about getting them off the ground, or knowing what’s required in the first place? Prior to installation and delivery of projects, Horizon Power works with Aboriginal community councils to develop a comprehensive engagement plan that reflects the local community’s aspirations, needs, experiences, cultural considerations and appropriate ways of working.

“We aim to co-design solutions that are aligned to community aspirations and requirements,” Ms Unwin says.

“One of Horizon Power’s guiding principles is to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through proactive and sustainable business decisions. Our vision is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to realise true social and economic equality.

Aerial of Bidyadanga

“In March 2020, we launched our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) following extensive engagement with our employees and local Aboriginal stakeholders across our service area.

“The Horizon Power RAP delivers targeted outcomes, actions and accountabilities mapped across the reconciliation themes of relationships, respect and opportunities themes and aligns to our guiding principle.

“It also mandates that our Board, Executive and strategic decision making takes into account outcomes for Aboriginal people as a deciding factor. We believe this will lead to better overall outcomes.”

In terms of selecting technology, Ms Unwin says, “Utility-grade energy systems allow remote communities to have improved energy quality, reliability, safety and access to renewable greener energy through increased renewable-hybrid (solar-diesel) systems with reduced CO2 emissions.
“The installation of solar panels on community infrastructure provides cleaner, greener electricity and more affordable energy for these communities.”

Further, Ms Unwin says solar and battery systems have been proven to have a high reliability rate and are well suited to the seasonal weather impacts that often affect energy systems in remote communities. A run-down of Horizon Power’s current projects in Aboriginal communities follows.

Remote Communities Centralised Solar

Horizon Power will install hundreds of kilowatts of solar and battery energy storage systems in six Kimberley communities including Kalumburu, Warmun, Ardyaloon, Beagle Bay, Djarindjin, and Bidyadanga as part of the Remote Communities Centralised Solar Project. This project will help deliver significant environmental benefits with a reduction of CO2 emissions by more than 2000 tonnes each year, which is the equivalent of taking 425 cars off the road. It will also reduce the cost of supplying electricity to remote towns.

Solar Incentive Scheme

As part of this scheme Horizon Power installed solar on community buildings and contributed to the upfront cost of thesolar systems by co-funding up to 30 per cent or $100,000 of the installation in the remote communities of Bidyadanga (160 kW, West Kimberley), and Warmun (150 kW, East Kimberley), as well as our trial locations of Djiarindjin (80kW) and Lombadina (30kW) communities.

Aboriginal Community Embedded Networks

Horizon Power will standardise the electricity supply, future operations and maintenance of 13 Aboriginal communities across regional WA. Currently the overhead and underground electricity infrastructure in these communities is not owned, operated or maintained by Horizon Power. This program will upgrade existing infrastructure as required, transfer ownership (poles and wires or underground cables) and ongoing responsibility to Horizon Power.

Battery Energy Storage Systems

This project will deploy battery energy storage systems in 2021, in the towns of Yungngora, Broome, Marble Bar, Gascoyne Junction, Carnarvon, Exmouth, Yalgoo, Wiluna, and Menzies and allow local hosting capacity to be increased. This will allow more customers to connect new or modify existing rooftop solar systems from early 2022.

In addition to the program outlined above, Horizon Power has secured feasibility funding to establish a detailed plan to transition a further 14 remote Aboriginal communities to utility-grade electricity services, likely to consist of:

  • Modern clean, lower cost solar-diesel hybrid generation;
  • Upgraded, utility owned and operated distribution networks;
  • User pays retail, including pre-payment billing and smart phone application; and
  • Local Aboriginal procurement and employment outcomes.

As for many facets of life, COVID-19 has stalled works on the delivery of the 700 kW solar farm and 1784 kWh battery energy storage system for Kalumburu while biosecurity measures were in place, which means the project will now be delivered in 2021. It’s currently also in negotiations to install solar farms in Bidyadanga, Djarindjin, Ardyaloon, Beagle Bay (West Kimberley) and Warmun (East Kimberley).

The proposed systems require minimal maintenance, which make them ideal for remote communities as well.

“Maintenance on solar systems is generally quite minimal as they can be monitored remotely to ensure it is performing as expected,” Ms Unwin said.

“Solar panels are considered ‘self-cleaning’ if installed at a tilt of at least 10 degrees but otherwise a yearly clean is encouraged. Depending on the growth of vegetation around the solar farm, some vegetation clearing may be conducted. “Six-monthly inspections are carried out on the panels, cabling and inverters to ensure no visible deterioration or damages.

“Maintenance of any battery storage energy systems will also be minimal as alarms will be visible remotely.

“General housekeeping and visible inspections is conducted but otherwise yearly maintenance to check coolant levels, ventilation, communications and cleanliness within the cabinets are conducted.”

Equally as important is the smaller environmental impact that these systems provide.

“[They] help deliver significant environmental benefits through a reduction in annual CO2 emissions as many of these remote communities, presently rely on 100 per cent diesel to fuel their towns,” Ms Unwin says.

“They also reduce the cost of supplying electricity to remote towns which reduces the State Government subsidy for regional power supplies.

“At Horizon Power we are committed to providing cleaner, greener, more affordable electricity for our regional customers. We launched a corporate strategy in November of 2019 that not only responds to the current challenges the business is facing in a disrupted sector andtransitions our operations from large centralised power generation, to greater integration of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) into our system, without compromising energy quality and reliability.

“This reflects national energy sector trends, which are in a state of transition, and we have been at the forefront of this change globally for some time. Horizon Power leads the sector in our evaluation and application of new technologies and technical standards.

“For example, during the past 12 months our trials in Carnarvon, Broome and Onslow have contributed towards our knowledge and expertise in managing DER and provides opportunities to support the implementation of the WA Government’s DER Roadmap by sharing our learnings beyond our own service area.

“We are committed to bridging the energy technology gap between metropolitan and regional areas of the state.”