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Australia’s varied landscape presents unique challenges to energy providers. What works for a city will not apply to remote communities and vice versa. This has led to the rise of regional providers to cater to these far-flung places.
Meanwhile, the country’s energy industry is facing two existential challenges: rapid decarbonization and reliability of energy supply in a rising cost environment. The resolution of these issues is a big challenge but solutions are available.
Fortunately, the sharp focus of Horizon Power, combined with its innovative thinking, agility and expertise, is enabling it to deliver significant results and cater for the unique needs of its customers who are spread out across regional and remote Western Australia. It is responsible for the largest geographical catchment of any Australian power provider, spanning 2.3 million square kilometers.
Western Australia’s regional energy provider is leading the way toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and is well under way with projects to reduce its emissions. Horizon Power, a Government Trading Enterprise, is the state’s only vertically integrated electricity utility, operating across the full energy supply chain: generation, transmission, distribution and retail services.
CEO Stephanie Unwin says the business has achieved much more than she’d hoped for in the four years she’s been in the role.
“It’s been a fantastic journey,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “We’ve really delivered a cultural turnaround and pushed quickly to deliver answers for the energy transition.”
An energy industry veteran since 2008, Unwin’s career has largely centered around energy transition.
“I worked on the first utility-scale solar farm in the Southern Hemisphere. I have been part of building wind farm assets and I got involved in community batteries when they were first emerging,” she recalls. “It’s always been interesting to see how you can solve a real problem by mobilizing technology.”
“My role is all about the connection between what we do in energy and how we can support the growth and greening of our regional communities.”
Horizon Power’s position in regional Western Australia gives Unwin the opportunity to change the game once again.
“My role is all about the connection between what we do in energy and how we can support the growth and greening of our regional communities,” she says.
“What drives me is the idea of fair growth. One thing I love about Horizon Power is that we support both the very big industry players in the Pilbara all the way to the smallest of remote communities. Everyone should be able to participate in this energy future and have positive economic outcomes.
“Horizon Power can bring those two together, bringing greener and economic energy solutions into communities and regions through the work we do.”
The diversity of the state’s furthest reaches makes this quite a mission, but Unwin believes Horizon Power has the required versatility.
“Every community is on its own journey. Some are really interested in renewables, others look for safe, reliable power first,” she explains. “We can deliver all of those things, but we have to always have an eye on a cleaner future.
“Even for fully diesel-based communities, we need to be able to help with transition – but in a way that provides safe, reliable power first. So how we operate and maintain is a key consideration when going greener.”
“Even for fully diesel-based communities, we need to be able to help with transition – but in a way that provides safe, reliable power first.”
That’s not always easy, as some of Horizon Power’s customers are only accessible by barge depending on the time of year.
“We have to understand all of our customers’ needs, no matter how small or far away the community is, right alongside those of the very large miners and those wanting to aggressively decarbonize,” Unwin says.
Doing so means staying on the cutting edge of technology so that the latest and greatest can provide what’s required.
“We’ve been looking for some time into things like deep storage, and we developed a hydrogen storage project that is now producing green hydrogen – when many are just talking about it,” she reveals.
“If we can produce hydrogen and have it available for long stretches of time, 10 days for example, we can solve a lot of problems. For us, necessity really is the mother of invention.”
One of the greatest challenges looming over the entire industry is that posed by electric vehicles. Currently, Horizon Power is working on the state’s superhighway that will run from Kununurra in the north of Western Australia to Esperance, and as far as Eucla in the south, and enables the sizing of its systems to support charging throughout.
“But there’s a big social license piece in this and a whole bunch of competing interests,” she admits. “Some people don’t want renewables in their backyard, so we need strong planning around where renewables are located.
“This will enable us to make sure we minimize the transmission infrastructure needed so vast tracts of land aren’t impacted and we get community and First Nations support on where and how land is developed.”
Also looming is Western Australia’s target of 80 percent decarbonization by 2030. With so many stakeholders in the mix, Horizon Power is in a delicate situation, but Unwin is sure the answers are out there.
“They’re not perfect, they’re not all commercial yet, but the answers are there,” she insists. “What’s critical is we’ve got to work on them right now.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the energy industry as it’s going through a rapid change with the uptake of renewables, as we work toward a net zero carbon future.”