Technology helps supply reliability solutions ‘down under’

Two major projects could help solve the problem of Australia’s unreliable electricity supply to remote areas.

According to reports from the University running the projects, one focuses on developing microgrids for remote communities, whilst the second aims to significantly enhance Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) power transmission to rural consumers.

The microgrid project, based at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), is more than halfway through its three-year development period. Because of the remoteness of some Australian communities, the challenge set by funders The Tyree Foundation, is to find a solution that ensures reliable electricity supply that can be maintained safely by the local communities. 

The solution is to develop microgrids, using locally developed components wherever possible. These will harness multiple power sources – from solar to thermal or even diesel generators – and either work independently or as part of Australia’s national grid system.

Project leader, Professor Joe Dong, added:

“We are developing models to plan for and optimise this broad range of energy sources to allow them to be interconnected. My role is to design different control methodologies and modelling for the microgrid while my colleagues are working on the power electronics, hardware, and systems side to operate and design it.”

Safety and reliability come together

UNSW is also pioneering a second solution which is set to enhance reliability but also safety in delivering electricity to remote areas of the country.  According to the researchers, there are some 200,000km of lines delivering SWER power instead of the more usual three-phase transmission/distribution systems.

However, with single lines usually between 50 and 100km long, there is plenty of scope for unreliability – either in the main lines themselves or in the spur lines used to deliver power to individual consumers – as well as the possibility of sparking devastating bushfires or causing electrocution risks.

So, UNSW has come up with an innovative solution: a distributed system with monitoring units on the line poles to provide real-time reporting on voltage, current, power and line condition.  As well as sending data to a central control centre, the units will also use Artificial Intelligence to allow them to process, store and make localised ‘decisions’ on supply.

Project leader, Professor Toan Phung, believes this solution could have benefits well beyond Australia:

“If we are successful, and I believe we will be, our technology can be applied in remote areas the world over and could have positive social impacts particularly in developing countries. These projects could be a game changer for remote communities, giving them security and autonomy in their energy supply.”