Microgrids Are Rapidly Restoring Power in Australia

Communities that lost electric infrastructure are now being powered up quickly by a new energy collective.

Feb 25, 2020

Shops in the township of Cobargo in NSW days before the devastating bushfires that destroyed the town. (ribeiroantonio / Shutterstock.com)

Australians are showing their can-do spirit and putting their communities back together after the bushfires affected people, animals as well as infrastructure. Getting electrical power back to these rural areas has been a major priority. After all, people need to be able to refrigerate food, charge cellphones, and get back to normal life.

Rebuilding electrical infrastructure is not an easy task in rural Australia so a new innovative solution had to be found. The answer is in microgrids run on solar power and batteries that can be installed and operational in only a day or two. 

A new project called Resilient Energy Collective is rolling these units out in dozens of  communities that need it the most.

The collective is funded by the family office of Mike Cannon-Brookes – the cofounder of the Australia-based tech company Atlassian – and his wife  who gave $12 million to the cause. The energy collective is also collaborating with solar panel company 5B and the batteries are being provided by Tesla.

“In three weeks we’ve come together, found the technology, adapted it, put it on trucks, and right now it’s operating, generating electricity,” Mike Cannon-Brookes said in a statement.

He believes that the small solar grids might be a better solution for rural Australia than rebuilding the old energy inefficient and polluting electrical power plants and infrastructure.

“As a nation, we’ve got to learn the lessons of this summer and invest in energy systems that help the planet, not hurt it,” he said. “That are resilient, not brittle. That are fast and flexible, not slow and fixed. And most importantly that reduce bills. In the future, we see a world in which many remote communities operate on solar power, off-the-grid. It will be more stable, more resilient, and less prone to damage.”

Resilient Energy said on its website that the collective is working with electrical power providers across the country to get the work done. In Cobargo, New South Wales, an area that was heavily damaged by the fires, a solar and battery system has helped Essential Energy reconnect electricity to the emergency communication tower. Before that, police and firefighters had to rely on diesel generators that took hours to refuel.

In East Gippsland, Victoria the Goongerah Community Hall, is now running on solar power thanks to a collaboration between the collective and AusNet Services, will now be able to supply vital services to people living nearby.

The new collective plans on quickly powering up to a hundred sites according to Fast Company and this will help bring a sense of normalcy to the people and communities that were affected by the brush fires.

This is not the first time microgrids have been used to help communities recover from disasters. After hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, solar companies SunRun, Sonnen, and Tesla installed small microgrids (solar panels and batteries) at hospitals and fire stations where electrical power was urgently needed.

This was so successful that the island passed historic legislation in 2019 to switch to 100 percent renewable energy.

Microgrids can be used for more than just emergency relief. In fact, they can also help remote communities in Australia and other parts of the globe have safe and renewable energy even when there is no electrical grid to connect to. 

Bringing electricity to rural areas will help improve the quality of life for their residents by providing refrigeration, safe drinking water and internet connections that will allow communication and trade with the rest of the world.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.