Off-grid solar power and battery storage are being used to replace grid power in a number of properties affected by last November’s devastating Esperance bushfire, the Western Australian government has announced.

Five standalone energy systems will be installed by state-owned utility Horizon Power, as part of a pilot project to explore ways of powering remote communities more efficiently. The first system was installed at a farm in Cape Le Grande last week.

The Esperance bushfires destroyed more than 320 wooden power poles and hundreds of kilometres of powerlines, with the vast majority of the network being rebuilt and more than 400 customers being reconnected within 10 days of the fires.

Instead of being reconnected to the grid, however, four customers across five properties have opted to be powered by solar PV systems and lithium-ion batteries, backed up by diesel generation.

Energy Minister Mike Nahan said the State Government was committed to harnessing the latest developments in renewable energy technology.

“The Esperance project is applying an off-grid solution to customers affected by the devastating Esperance bushfires in those areas of the network which had previously supplied only one or two customers along long stretches of powerline,” he said.

Frank Tudor, managing director of Horizon Power, said: “We identified that instead of rebuilding this part of the network – which is more susceptible to adverse weather and other causes of power interruptions – we could offer these customers a dedicated renewable energy power system which is not connected to the grid.”

The systems, which are to be owned and operated by Horizon Power, will be monitored and optimised over the next few months.

Mr Tudor said the project customers will pay the same price for electricity as they did previously for grid power.

“While the units won’t be connected to the network, customers will receive the same service standards as those who are – including being able to call and rely on Horizon Power to respond to any unplanned power interruptions.”

Dr Nahan said this is just one of many innovative projects the WA Government is currently exploring to power regional and isolated communities more efficiently.

“Western Power is also partnering with Horizon Power and Synergy to undertake a pilot project to evaluate the use of standalone power systems in other parts of regional WA.”

The minister said Horizon Power expected to use the knowledge gained from the standalone power systems in Esperance to apply to other suitable parts of the network in regional WA.