Expensive and polluting diesel generation dotted around the vast expanses of Australia will be sharing its burden with stand-alone power systems supplied by solar thanks to the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which has launched its $50 million Regional Australia Microgrid Pilots Program.

Announced in the 2020-21 federal budget, the six-year program aims to improve the resilience and reliability of electricity supply in regional communities and demonstrate solutions to technical, regulatory or commercial barriers to the deployment of microgrid technologies.

The launch of RAMPP builds on the government’s $50.4 million Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, which contributed to feasibility studies for regional and remote communities to investigate deployment of local microgrid technologies.

Microgrids are small-scale electricity systems that can coordinate local energy resources such as solar panels, battery storage and other distributed infrastructure to provide secure and reliable electricity within the microgrid as well as optimising renewable energy generation and usage.

The microgrid may also provide services back to a major grid, or operate independently of a major grid. Microgrids might involve solar panels, battery storage and other distributed infrastructure as well as hydrogen, new forms of energy storage or diesel generation.

Small and mighty

Coordinating local electricity resources in a microgrid can bolster the resilience and reliability of supply in the event of a natural disaster, making microgrid technologies a particularly appealing option for communities prone to bushfires, floods or cyclones.

For remote communities, microgrids offer a pathway to switch to renewable energy, reduce emissions, costs and fuel security issues and improve reliability and security for remote communities with weak grids or grids that are reliant on diesel generation. They also help to increase renewable energy penetration and value through coordination of resources and provision of services from distributed energy resources.

RAMPP funding will be available to projects that have been proven to be viable through a feasibility study. ARENA is expecting applications demonstrating grid connected microgrids, standalone power systems (SAPS) and remote isolated microgrids.

ARENA chief executive Darren Miller said RAMPP funding will support the demonstration of a wide range of microgrid technologies.   

“Whether it’s maintaining electricity supply during and after emergencies such as bushfires and floods, or improving the reliability and security of power supply in remote communities, this program will showcase the diverse benefits microgrids offer regional Australia,” Miller said.

“With feasibility studies funded in every state, RRCRF is showing us that microgrids provide an exciting opportunity to integrate renewables into regional communities.”

ARENA has previously supported remote microgrid projects to reduce diesel consumption such as SETuP in the Northern Territory, and on Lord Howe Island, Flinders Island, Garden Island and Rottnest Island. Last year, ARENA also provided funding to Horizon Power’s Denham Hydrogen Demonstration Plant, the first remote microgrid system in Australia to integrate hydrogen generation.