The floods that decimated New South Wales and Queensland have shut off power to tens of thousands of people, limiting their access and hampering rescue efforts. This includes 54,000 homesBrisbane alone
But this doesn’t have to keep happening. Our New research finds installing renewable energy-run microgrids as a back-up power source can ensure regional communities don’t run out of critical energy, fuel and food supplies when the next disaster strikes.
Microgrids can be described as groups of homes or businesses that use, create, and share electricity. When the main grid begins to fail, they can disconnect from the main grid and continue to operate in a so-called “islanding” mode.
A number of community microgrid feasibility studies are in progress. One, Announced byAngus Taylor, Energy Minister will use renewable energy to provide power for Daintree communities in far northern Queensland. It will include an 8 megawatt solar farm and 20 megawatt hours worth of battery storage. There will also be a 1 megawatt clean hydro plant.
These projects are a good place to start. Critics argue the Daintree microgrid’s impact on the rainforest is untested, and point to the need for greater community engagement. Australia can – and should – be a world leader in this field, but as climate change brings more frequent disasters, we can’t afford to get it wrong.
Power outages after disasters
It is crucial to have energy supply available during and after disasters. However, this is often the first thing that is interrupted.
For example, the bushfires that ravaged large swathes southeast Australia’s in the summer of 2019/2020 were destroyed. Critical infrastructureEast Gippsland. It destroyed entire communities Without powerand telecommunications, with some cut off during weeks.
This highlighted the failures of the current electricity distribution system in its ability to supply communities when it is most needed. The Loss of powerIt meant losing the ability heat water, heat food, pump fuel, pay bills, charge mobile phones, heat water, and keep it cool.
Fast forward two years, and another disaster has hit Australia’s southeast.
Australia is one of the world’s largest countries, but with one of the lowest population densities. This means that electricity must travel long distances to reach many of our communities.
As climate change causes devastating floods and fires More frequentIt is impossible to rebuild the electricity poles and wires, which run the hillsides and track rivers, that have been damaged.
Provide emergency power abroad
Microgrids are used to supply power to remote areas of the globe where it is difficult or too costly to do so from the main grid. However, microgrids are able to provide a reliable and clean supply of energy in areas where there is a high risk of natural and climate-related catastrophes.
At least 21 Australians have been killed by the floods. Adapting to a harsher climate now is a matter of life or death
To explore the potential for emergency energy supply in Australia, we used case studies of disaster response overseas. This includes the recent wildfires. United StatesAnd GreeceEarthquakes in New Zealand, and cyclones India.
Each sought to increase community resilience through the provision a more reliable and cleaner source of energy. This typically took the form of small scale renewable energy systems combined with energy storage and backup power, with an ability to “island” from the main grid while keeping the lights on.
For example, after Hurricanes Katrina (2005) Sandy(2012) major Power outages and destructionThe North Eastern states of America and the Gulf have been the most important markets for microgrids.
To see the benefits in action, we can also look to Sonoma County in North California. 2012 saw the installation of a winery. An off-grid solutionRenewable energy and battery storage are used. The microgrid allowed the winery to survive wildfires in 2017, switching to full island mode. This enabled the business to continue to operate independently for ten days.
And The evidence is overwhelmingMicrogrids in Japan have been able to continue operating after several earthquakes and storms.
A good start, but more is needed
Through its Remote and Regional Community Reliability FundThe federal government will invest A$50 million over five year for feasibility studies in microgrid technology. These studies will aim to boost or replace electricity supply in more than 100 off-grid or fringe-of-grid communities.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency Committing is an act of defianceAnother A$50 million will be used to finance pilot projects in micorgrid. Western Australia is leading this charge with its pioneering use Stand-alone power systems – like smaller, more contained microgrids that are completely separate from the grid.
Texas’s electricity grid failure shows that microgrids can offer hope for a better tomorrow
This funding is a step forward, as there is evidence that microgrids can help communities withstand natural disasters.
To get their support, there must be more engagement with communities. This includes greater cooperation with electricity network companies to help communities understand the microgrid concept for their town.
What’s more, the current Restrictive regulatory frameworksIt can often be a barrier to energy sharing or storing, which is essential for microgrids.
Without incorporating these into Australia’s plans, the likelihood of seeing successfully implemented microgrids across the continent will remain lamentably low.