Hydrogen a ‘green and clean’ energy solution for remote Aboriginal communities

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In the middle of WA’s sweltering Pilbara region, about 25km south-east of Port Hedland, the Jinparinya Aboriginal community lives across seven houses.

Each is powered by a grid-connected system via an underground cable.

However, when the connected grid fails under heavy load or high heat, this community can black out completely.

Now, a study conducted by researchers at Murdoch University has found a sustainable answer to their energy needs: harnessing hydrogen. 

The research team, led by Associate Professor GM Shaffiullah from Murdoch University, explored the potential for a renewable energy microgrid with a hybrid battery-hydrogen storage system to provide reliable and renewable energy to the community.

Microgrids are smaller and more flexible power grids that can operate independently of the mains power grid, making them a great sustainable energy solution for remote communities.

The team worked alongside Indigenous mining logistics company Cundaline Resources as well as two leading electrical contractors to identify the Jinparinya Aboriginal community and the Warralong Aboriginal Community as ideal project sites.

The Warralong Aboriginal community is slightly larger than Jinparinya, comprised of 35 houses that are currently powered by three diesel generators on a stand-alone microgrid, which also supports a school and community centre.

One of the major drawbacks of diesel generators is the production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, which are released into the atmosphere.

Both the Jinparinya and Warralong communities were looking for a sustainable solution aligned with their care for Country.

The use of green hydrogen to store excess renewable energy was identified to help sustain and stabilise power loads, with the system providing longer storage periods than regular batteries. 

Hydrogen-enabled renewable-energy-based microgrids would significantly reduce the costs for the proposed sites and proeduce cleaner and denser energy, with simulation studies showing a compelling business case for the transition particularly in regional and remote areas. 

The payback period for these microgrids is projected to be similar to rooftop solar panels for a suburban home. The Jinparinya microgrid would pay for itself in just under seven years and the Warralong microgrid in just five-and-a-half years.

As the Jinparinya community progresses plans to expand to a roadhouse, caravan park and service station, with both a hydrogen fuelling station and electric vehicle charging station, they expressed their interest in transforming their electricity grid to a renewable system that canexpand with them.

Associate Professor Dr GM Shaffiullah said the implementation of the stand along microgrids would also provide additional economic opportunities.

“Renewable energy integrated microgrids can create jobs in the infrastructure’s construction, operation and maintenance,” Dr Shaffiullah said.

Additionally, communities could potentially sell excess hydrogen or energy back to the grid, or as direct fuel for electric vehicles and trucks, generating revenue for the community.”

Dr Shaffiullah said producing renewable hydrogen for remote areas that reduced their reliance on diesel was one of the strategic focus areas of the WA Renewable Hydrogen Strategy and this study presented a clean and cost-effective option to embrace it.

“This feasibility study demonstrates that a 100% renewable energy stand-alone power system can be both economically and technically achieved,” Dr Shaffiullah said.

Report contributor Professor Parisa Bahri said the study would be used as a guideline in the state government’s planning and policymaking to achieve its renewable and hydrogen energy goals.

The study also proposed a conceptual transition plan to roll out this stand-alone power system in the approximately 117 regional and homeland aboriginal communities in WA running with diesel power stations, and the research team recommended transitioning to these types of systems should commence as a matter of priority.

Find out more about Murdoch University's commitment to sustainability.
Posted on:

24 Nov 2023

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