Power on – no matter the weather


By Eric Pellicer – Powerco General Manager Business Development

This report discusses Powerco’s ten-plus years of research and innovation of an all-in-one, renewable generation energy system. To date, 17 Base Power units have been deployed, equipped with a battery storage system and diesel generator back-up.

The technology

Base Power is a hands-off system, combining renewable solid-state generation, peak generation and intelligent storage. A remote, rural customer receives the same or better supply from Base Power as they do from traditional lines service. However, as they remain a ‘network customer’, they continue to receive services such as fault response and inquiry support from Powerco.

Base Power intelligently manages generation and storage based on customer demands, without the need for customer or external management. The core Energy Storage Unit which houses the intelligence can act as a standalone off-grid unit, grid-connected uninterruptable power supply, or be used for peak smoothing. It has also been used as a rapid response unit after storm events on Powerco’s network.

It is designed to accommodate several energy demand scenarios via the single chassis design. The key benefit of this is that is enables a customer (or supply agent) to customise and configure the unit as demand needs change. The chassis, which stands under two metres tall, has a footprint of 2mX1.5m and weighs up to a metric tonne. The design of the chassis has been optimised to support easy maintenance and deployment using various methods (inducing top and bottom loading).

The unit is capable of both single and three-phase supply, and supports either AC 230V or DC 48V power needs. It can supply at a continuous 12kW and is capable of supporting a 19kW peak. Storage for the solution can range from 3kW/hr to 54kW/hr without the need for any customisation, and is capable of full daily cycling. It can be remotely monitored via various communications methods and can operate autonomously of any external input. It can be paired with a wide array of renewable and non-renewable generation to accommodate various deployment needs.

Need for a viable supply alternative

Overhead power lines and poles spanning miles of remote, rural, undulating countryside – at the mercy of high winds, slips, floods, falling trees and snow storms. Powerco’s electricity network covers large geographical areas of New Zealand’s North Island, with many thousands of kilometres (km) of poles and lines located in remote countryside. We also have our fair share of storms, putting the resilience of our network regularly to the test.

These challenges have enabled us to appreciate the complexities electricity utilities can have in keeping the power on for customers, particularly in remote areas. It led us to develop Base Power – Powerco’s standalone power system (SAPS) – as a viable supply alternative to traditional overhead lines.

Base Power

Customers at the end of the line

Powerco customers Hans and Michelle Brink, whose 700-hectare sheep, cattle and forestry property is 50km inland from Kai Iwi on the North Island’s west coast, know only too well the perils of living in the middle of nowhere.

Like the vast majority of New Zealand farmers, the Brinks relied on traditional poles and lines crossing land prone to slips, floods, and falling trees to provide them with the power they needed to run their business. This meant electricity supplies could be disrupted without warning – especially in bad weather and sometimes for up to two weeks – as the network was accessed and repaired following storm damage. “When you’re at the end of the line like we were, you’re at the mercy of the whole grid,” Hans

But the Brinks’ electricity worries ended in mid-2015, following the worst flooding on record in the Taranaki and Manawatu-Whanganui areas, when Powerco introduced them to the original trial version of Base Power. They have since upgraded to a newer model. Powered by photovoltaic solar panels, with a diesel generator back-up and a bank of batteries to store excess energy, the Brinks are now able to reliably operate their home and five-stand woolshed, without the worry of prolonged power cuts. Not having to worry about electricity has been liberating, the couple say. “We don’t even think about power anymore. It’s excellent. We’re 100% happy.”

You can watch a video of the Brinks’ story here: www.basepower.co.nz

Farmers Michelle and Hans Brink find having a Base Power unit “liberating”.

The birth of Base Power

Most of Powerco’s network was built in the 1950s and 1960s. At the time, about 1600 kilometres (km) of remote, rural line was constructed with the assistance of New Zealand’s Rural Electrical Reticulation Council funding. Under the New Zealand Electricity Act, distribution networks are required to still maintain supply to these remote rural customers regardless of the ability to directly recover renewal costs.

In 2008, Powerco set out to address this issue through research and innovation. After several years of testing and refinement, we finished development of Base Power, the all-in- one unit that provides grid-parity supply for customer installations.

Base Power provides Powerco an alternative electricity supply for areas where to upgrade the electricity network and improve supply is not cost effective. So far, we have 17 Base Power units deployed on our network with an additional 60 sites planned during the next five years.

The units have proved invaluable following large storm events in our distribution area. As they are easily transportable by truck or helicopter, Powerco has been able to quickly power- up very remote customers whose power has been cut due to damage on their local lines network. In 2017, Powerco’s network was exposed to severe icing conditions resulting in significant low voltage network damage in remote areas. Eight Base Power units were deployed within 24 hours of the event and reduced pressure on recovery efforts. We have received encouraging feedback from remote customers who have been given the opportunity to have a Base Power unit provide their electricity instead of traditional overhead lines. As well as the Brink’s endorsement, we have had other customers say they have experienced significant improvements in the quality and reliability of their energy supply with Base Power. In one instance, a customer who had been given a unit following a storm, asked we leave Base Power on-site rather than repair and reconnect the lines.

Base Power units being installed in a particularly remote area of Powerco’s network.
Solution for uneconomic or risky electricity networks Being a utility ourselves, Base Power was designed for utility deployment in mind. As a turnkey solution, it needs minimal ongoing maintenance and, given its modular design, reduces the dependency on highly-skilled field staff for second level support.

For utilities, Base Power is an ideal solution to mitigate remote area power supply
challenges in cases where networks are:

  • Uneconomical to maintain or renew
  • Challenged through vegetation encroachment or fire risk
  • Difficult to access
  • Need temporary or intermittent energy supply.

Its modular design enables utilities to easily configure Base Power as needed – to suit a
wide range of customer connection requirements without needing to customise or re-design.

With a single chassis design and standardised wiring, the unit can support different demand needs by simply adding inverters or batteries. In so doing, Base Power can support up to three-phase energy needs with 56kw/hr of storage. This capability can be further extended through the unit’s ability to accept any form of renewable or backup generation. This flexibility provides utility planning engineers the confidence that, even with minimal understanding of energy demands at their target site, Base Power can be easily slotted in as the solution of choice.

For planners, a robust SAPS such as Base Power allows them to re-think how networks are designed and renewed in remote areas. Costly, uneconomic sections of network can continue to receive grid quality supply without the needs to maintain or rebuild using traditional methods. These types of solutions provide asset managers more flexibility in how they consider energy systems and allows more efficient allocation of annual Capex budgets.

At Base Power Ltd, we are constantly evolving our suite of products. We actively collaborate with lines companies and customers who have networks in areas that test the boundaries of what Base Power can do. In so doing, we are continually improving the designs and we welcome the opportunity to work with anyone to help them solve their most challenging remote customer supply needs.

Powerco is New Zealand’s second largest electricity utility and gas distribution utility with around 1.1m
customers (across 446,000 connections) connected to its networks. Powerco’s electricity networks
(338,000 connections) are in Western Bay of Plenty, Thames, Coromandel, Eastern and Southern
Waikato, Taranaki, Whanganui, Rangitikei, Manawatu and the Wairarapa. Its gas pipeline networks
are in Taranaki, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Wellington, Horowhenua, Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay.

Base Power units are powered by photovoltaic solar panels at this remote New Zealand site.