The Power Is Coming Back on in Australian Communities Thanks to Solar-Powered Minigrids

Fires and floods destroyed lives, communities, wildlife and infrastructure in Australia. Solutions like photovoltaic microgrids paired with Tesla batteries, are getting the lights turned on — and fast. (Photo: kostasgr/Shutterstock)

In the wake of Australia's bushfires, an unprecedented natural disaster in which more than 20 percent of the continent's forests burned, dozens of rural communities cut off from the electrical grid faced the grim prospect of weeks and even months before power might be restored.

For Australian Mike Cannon-Brookes, that timeline just wasn't acceptable. The billionaire co-founder of enterprise software giant Atlassian has leveraged battery technology from Tesla and portable, per-fabricated solar arrays from B5 to fund a new initiative that creates clean-energy microgrids within stranded communities in as little as a day. He and his wife donated $12 million to fund the new Resilient Energy Collective.

"In three weeks we’ve come together, found the technology, adapted it, put it on trucks, and right now it’s operating, generating electricity," Cannon-Brookes said in a statement.

A solar rollout

Cannon-Brookes, who famously challenged Elon Musk in 2017 to help fix South Australia's struggling electrical grid in only 100 days, is using the collective's initial funding to target 100 hard-hit sites throughout Australia. Each of the microgrids is scalable, utilizing a modular system called Maverick from Australian solar innovator B5 that can be folded up, loaded onto a truck, and then unfolded in as little as 20 square meters (215 square feet). To prevent interruption, Tesla's Powerwall batteries — the same that helped establish microgrids throughout Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria — are integrated with the system.

"That's what this collective is all about — getting the best tech and the best ingenuity together to solve a massive problem in days, not months or years," added Cannon-Brookes.

The push to leverage decentralized clean energy as a means to quickly recover from natural disasters comes on the heels of a new report from the Parliament of Western Australia finding that the state has the potential to become a microgrid superpower. The isolated region, which generates a majority of its electricity from coal and gas, is increasingly shifting to solar energy as a more economic and environmentally-friendly alternative.

"Microgrids offer Western Australia the opportunity to benefit economically in terms of optimizing our electricity systems and exporting our valuable intellectual property," the report reads. "The efficient deployment of microgrids and associated technologies can also reduce our carbon intensity."

As for those impacted by the devastating bushfires, Resilient Energy will accept applications for its free microgrid solution through July 1, 2020.

"In the future, we see a world in which many remote communities operate on solar power, off-the-grid. It will be more stable, more resilient and less prone to damage," Cannon-Brookes added.

"This is a perfect solution to a massive problem. It will restore power faster. It's renewable, reliable and clean."