ABC News reported that for decades, farmers in Western Australia’s south have put up with the most unreliable electricity supply in the state. Now, they are about to find out if they can live off-grid and survive on solar power instead.
Ros and Bernie Giles are part of a handful of farming families giving the technology a crack after living through years of frustration at their farm in West River, which is 500 km south of Perth. According to the Giles, summer is the worst time because there are more fluctuations in energy supply. They have purchased their own generator as a backup because outages interfere with their daily operations.
The family pioneered the area in the early 80’s, clearing the land to build the family farm, all without any reliable power. They lived off generator power for years before spending thousands of dollars connecting to the state grid in the late 80’s. Unfortunately, the power supply was unreliable and forced them to spend hundreds of dollars on devices to safeguard their equipment against any unexpected power outages.
Other families in the region are also trialling life off the grid, testing out if they can rely on solar power and battery storage. Standalone solar and battery systems cost around $150,000 but the state government will pay for the systems.
Western Australia’s west grid spans more than 250,000 square kilometres, but it only services a 50th of the population, thus making it unreliable and costly to maintain. And the problems of West River are hardly unique. According to Matthew Warren of the Australian Energy Council, most edge-of-grid communities around the country are suffering the same problem.
And having overseen the deregulation of energy markets and the shift towards renewable energy, Mr. Warren is all too aware of the consumer-led power revolution for more affordable and greener power. He also said that the huge cost of maintaining grid-supplied power to remote areas for just a handful of customers was unfeasible, unsustainable and expensive.
The move by Western Australia’s Liberal-National government to invest in the technology is seen as a step towards a more sustainable future. It’s not only environmental goals driving the innovation, but the financial realities of providing expensive poles and wire networks against the improving economics of alternative sources and renewables.
As for Ros and Bernie Giles, they will spend the next year testing out the solar setup before they decide if they will cut off their power lines.