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$75m renewable energy opportunity for First Nations communities

David Prestipino -

$75 million dollars has been allocated to develop 'microgrids' to assist remote and regional communities access renewable energy options.

Indigenous communities have been urged to get their share of the funding to help end Australia's dependence on costly diesel in remote and regional areas.

Microgrids are standalone energy systems, often comprising solar panels and batteries, that can operate in areas far from the so-called national electricity grid.

Applications opened last Friday, with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) program set to run until December 2025, or until the funds are allocated.

ARENA chief executive, Darren Miller, said the program would help Indigenous communities access renewable energy and build on ARENA's work in microgrids.

"It's vital we make sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities are able to participate in the electricity transition and share in the benefits," he said.

Mr Miller said those relying on fossil fuels such as diesel have unique challenges in transitioning to renewables that this new funding would help overcome.

The funding follows amendments to the national agreement for Closing the Gap to include new standards for the provision of essential services including electricity.

The projects will be developed in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, First Nations renewable energy experts and state and territory governments.

It makes up the bulk of a $125m regional microgrids measure announced in the federal budget.

What are microgrids?

Microgrids are small, localised networks that share energy from interconnected small-scale technologies like solar and batteries with small communities.

As well as improving energy independence for isolated populations, they offer a way to accelerate the shift to locally-deployed renewable energy.

While microgrids are not new, the falling cost of solar, batteries and energy management technology is making them a viable option for more regions that struggle with expensive, polluting and unreliable electricity supplies.

King Island in Bass Strait has shown what is possible, using a combination of solar, wind, wave power and battery storage to displace more than two-thirds of the diesel generation the community has relied on for generations.

This approach allows communities to benefit from affordable, dependable electricity supplies, without the cost of building and maintaining transmission to centralised networks like the National Electricity Market.

The remote town of Denham in Western Australia's Shark Bay World Heritage area is undergoing a different type of transformation, replacing its diesel generators with a microgrid fuelled by green hydrogen.

While microgrids are often connected to larger grids that can supply energy in the event of generation shortfalls, the new funding will also be extended to 'stand alone' systems that are designed to operate independently.

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