Looking beyond the grid to power Australia

·3-min read

Off-grid power company Pacific Energy is planning an industrial-scale expansion as it rolls out a hybrid future in some of the most rugged parts of Australia.

The need for a stable and secure electricity grid means renewable energy cannot take over, according to some critics.

The solution for miners and electricity firms faced with a vast and unforgiving landscape is increasingly being found off-grid with their own hybrid power supplies and battery storage systems.

Only two per cent of Australia's population lives in off-grid locations, but more than six per cent of the nation's electricity use occurs in these regional and remote areas - dominated by energy demand from mining operations.

Pacific Energy, owned by Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC), added more than 76 megawatts of power to its portfolio last year, taking it to over 550MW or about the size of a typical coal-fired power station.

Chief executive James Cullen told AAP on Wednesday the WA-headquartered firm is looking at a presence in all three eastern states and the Northern Territory as industrial demand increases.

"The grid is here to stay and the various issues being experienced as a result of surging renewables penetration will eventually be worked through," he said.

"However, there will be sectors which may come off the grid such as fringe-of-grid consumers switching to dedicated stand-alone power systems or reduced reliance on the grid, such microgrids incorporating rooftop solar and storage in industrial complexes."

WA, the source of much of Pacific Energy's growth to date, is not part of the so-called national electricity market.

The NEM operates on one of the world's longest interconnected power systems - from Port Douglas in Queensland to Port Lincoln in South Australia - a distance of around 5000 kilometres and supplies around 80 per cent of Australia's electricity consumption.

"The off-grid market has been the backbone of the business for many years so west of the NEM has certainly been the focus," Mr Cullen said.

"But with the rapid changes in technology and economics we see various opportunities in and around the NEM," he said.

"Industrial facilities are likely to have demand for integrated solar, inverter, battery, and switchboard packages in order to connect and control multiple sources of energy from behind the meter, such as selecting from solar, battery or NEM generation to power workplace EV charging stations."

Projects in the west include a 32MW hybrid gas and renewable energy plant for critical minerals developer Strandline Resources.

Galena Mining's lead-silver Abra project in the Gascoyne region is getting an 18MW hybrid gas, solar, battery system and LNG storage renewable power station.

Northern Star Resources has a 17MW expansion of the Thunderbox power station underway to power its gold mining operations.

A 6MW solar farm is being built for lithium miner Pilbara Minerals' Pilgangoora operations.

Near completion, a power plant being developed in Esperance for Horizon Power brings together 22MW gas, 9MW of wind, 4MW solar and 4MW battery energy storage systems.

A joint partnership with South Australian firm LAVO is testing hydrogen energy technology.

Iluka Resources also worked with Pacific Energy's subsidiary KPS Power Generation to convert a 10MW diesel power station at the Jacinth-Ambrosia minerals sands mine in South Australia into a hybrid solar system.

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