Flexible energy resources essential for a low-carbon energy future

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Australia is going through an exciting energy transition that, in part, is being driven by customers who continue to invest in distributed energy resources (DERs) such as rooftop solar.

In South Australia, more than one in three customers have installed rooftop solar panels, with total capacity now exceeding 1.8GW – a vast resource on the same scale as the state’s typical electricity demand of about 1.5 GW.

SA Power Networks, recently named by the Australian Financial Review as one of Australia’s top five innovative companies in the energy, mining and agriculture sectors, has developed a suite of solutions that will enable greater adoption of DER and the continuation of the transition towards a low-carbon and decentralized energy system.

Mark Vincent, general manager of strategy and transformation at SA Power Networks, said the utility is committed to supporting the decarbonization of the state’s energy system and sees the energy transition as a tremendous opportunity to create a system affordable, reliable, low-carbon energy that will provide significant value for its customers and community.

“We have reached the stage where rooftop solar will soon be able to meet all of our state’s energy demand, making South Australia the first
gigawatt-scale system in the world to face the challenges of a highly decentralized energy supply. This means we work as a virtual test bed for energy networks and markets in Australia and overseas,” Mr Vincent said.

“Over the next decade, we can expect the amount of solar power connected to our grid to double, along with nearly a gigawatt of residential energy storage and more than 150,000 electric vehicles. In total, more than 5 GW of resources will operate on a power system designed for 3 GW.

“The key to making it all work is flexibility,” Vincent said. “There is a lot of interest in what we are doing, especially the development of innovative flexible connection options for DER. “Flexible connection arrangements, where customer and grid equipment work together, will be key to maximizing the value of the future energy system.

We believe they will become a standard approach nationwide. Given our immediate challenges, we are prioritizing the introduction of our new ‘Flexible Exports’ connection offering for solar. »

Simply put, instead of implementing a lower fixed export limit in grid restricted areas (as some other grids have done), SA Power Networks has developed a flexible export solution that enables solar exports up to 10 kW depending on grid capacity at any time. time.

The trial of flexible exports

The “Flexible Exports” connection offering is being developed in a $4.84 million ARENA-funded trial, with SA Power Networks and Victoria-based AusNet Services, in partnership with leading inverter manufacturers, Fronius, SMA and SolarEdge, and energy management software. SwitchDin, to develop the technical capacity needed to offer solar customers flexible rather than fixed export limits.

Brendon Hampton, Head of Grid Strategy at SA Power Networks, said: “The flexible export limits offered in the trial will enable more customers to connect to solar power and will also offer greater year-round solar export opportunities.

“With flexible exports, solar exports are automatically adjusted to maximize the amount of solar power that can be connected and exported to the power grid.” Based on our modeling, we believe customers will be able to export up to 10 kW, 98% of the time, which will provide grid access significantly above our standard fixed export limit of 5 kW.”

Initially, SA Power Networks is offering flexible exports in areas served by the Sheidow Park substation in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Over 46% of households in the region have solar power and the local grid is reaching its limit to support more solar connections at the current fixed export limit of 5 kW.

However, the network is only congested at rare times (for example, on mild, sunny days in spring). Mr Hampton said the flexible export option was only made possible through close collaboration with trial partners and extensive engagement with the solar industry.

“We recognized that the introduction of this new option was a significant change for customers and for the solar industry,” Hampton said.

“Creating our Solar Industry Reference Group has allowed us to work through all the challenges with retailers and solar installers to arrive at a marketable solution that is now being tested in the real world.”

Challenges

The rapid growth of solar has created several challenges for grids. First, in localized areas, solar exports can exceed local grid capacity, leading to issues such as voltage spikes and inverters shutting down in response.

And, when large amounts of solar energy are simultaneously exported to the grid and there is low energy demand, it can overload major assets and create security of supply management issues.

Currently, solar customers in South Australia are able to export excess power they create to the grid with a fixed limit of 5kW per phase. But in areas with very high solar usage, SA Power Networks faces the need to reduce export limits to 1.5kW for new connection customers to avoid exceeding grid capacity. .

Instead, SAPN will offer customers the choice of a new smart option of flexible exports or a fixed limit of 1.5 kW for the whole year. Energy Networks Australia (ENA) has congratulated SA Power Networks for its world-class trial. ENA chief executive Andrew Dillon said the scheme, introducing flexible export limits, had far-reaching implications for solar customers across the country.

“This is the future – a smarter and more flexible power system. This is great news for customers in South Australia,” said Dillon. “We are in the early stages of this new technology, and Flexible Exports is a world first that will help us accommodate more solar power on our grid,” Mr. Vincent said.

“We anticipate that once we have proven the technology and validated the customer experience, this will become a standard offering for new solar customers in South Australia from mid-2022.

“The widespread adoption of flexible exports and the introduction of some other initiatives we are putting in place will help us achieve our goal of doubling the amount of solar power we can accommodate on our grid by 2025.”