Mountain communities usually rely on long underground or above ground power lines to connect them to electricity supply. These can be cut or damaged by bushfire and winter conditions. Stand alone micro power grids powered by renewables could well be the climate-friendly solution to this problem.

Renew Economy reports that:

‘The Australian Renewable Energy Agency will provide $341,990 in grant funding to support the development of mini wind turbines designed to power off-grid telecommunications towers and remote applications’. When combined with storage batteries, these could also provide electricity to ski resorts and other remote and mountain towns.

Michael Mazengarb, writing in Renew Economy goes on to say:

The Newcastle-based start-up Diffuse Energy has developed a 500-watt mini wind turbine, which will be used as part of a $922,000 trial to demonstrate the ability to power off-grid communications systems.

During the 2019-20 summer of bushfires, many regional communities found themselves disconnected from communications systems, including mobile phone networks, when fires caused critical telecommunication infrastructure to be disconnected from the electricity grid.

This led to calls for communications systems to be equipped with standalone power systems, and Diffuse Energy believe their mini wind turbine design could be an ideal solution, boosting reliability and lowing emissions by reducing dependence on the mains grid and diesel backup generators.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, partnering with deployable solar provider 5B and battery giant Tesla, stepped in to roll out a number of remote solar and storage systems to restore power to communities affected by the bushfires.

The inclusion of a wind turbine has the potential to complement other technologies like solar and battery storage in remote energy systems, by providing a supply of power throughout both the night and day, as well as being deployed in areas where solar panels are impractical.

Diffuse Energy has designed its Hyland 920 mini wind turbines to overcome some of the common issues faced by remote deployments, including the challenge of maintaining turbines in remote regionals and lower performance due to their smaller scale.

Diffuse Energy is a spin-off of work undertaken by colleagues at the University of Newcastle, and is targeting a global market for remote power systems for telecommunications infrastructure. The company estimates that around $3.4 billion is expected to be spent by the communications industry on distributed energy systems by 2024.

“Telecommunication providers depend on secure and resilient energy generation in order to deliver essential communication services,” Diffuse Energy CEO Joss Kesby said. “The industry is also rapidly moving towards net zero carbon emissions creating a very strong demand for innovative, cost-effective renewable technologies.”

“A nationwide rollout of our wind turbine technology to these sites could displace 17 GWh and 33,000 tonnes of CO2 from fossil fuelled generation per year. Equivalent to $43.9 million in savings of diesel fuel, transportation costs, and generator maintenance.”

If the trial proves successful, Diffuse Energy hopes to scale up the deployment of their mini wind turbine designs across more locations.

Licola is the only Victorian town not connected to the mains electricity grid. They have been generating their own power, which has included using over $100,000 in diesel each year. It is now in the process of going to 100% renewables, relying on solar panels, and batteries with 30 hours of off-grid storage.

People sometimes oppose the idea of a turbine at Mt Hotham because of the claim of ‘visual impact’. Yet there is already significant infrastructure on the summit, so why would a turbine be a bad thing?

The Mt Hotham Masterplan already includes the proposal for a wind turbine on the summit area (see photo at the top of the post – the purple box just near the summit is the area considered suitable for a turbine).

Wind energy (or other renewable sources such as micro hydro or solar panels) linked with battery storage is the logical future that climate aware mountain communities should be pursuing.