A Taiwanese delegation visited ActewAGL recently due to their solar power success. The delegation received a presentation about the penetration of PV across the ActewAGL network, a visit to the control room and an overview of the company’s guidelines and regulations.
ActewAGL’s Customer Solutions Manager John Garvin says the reason the Taiwanese delegation visited was because our network is receptive to PV solar connection.
“The rest of Australia has had problems connecting solar, we haven’t,” he says. ”Even the Taiwanese want to know why we are different. We have a compact, resilient and versatile network for connections above 30 kilowatts. We do network studies and we verify that it is technically acceptable to connect solar PVs above 30 kilowatts. We do the study to see if proposals are technically compliant with our requirements.”
But Mr Garvin admits he was apprehensive at first about divulging the details on ActewAGL’s research to external groups.
“I wasn’t quite sure what they wanted or whether or not I wanted to provide them with that detailed information on our network,” he says. “But now that I’ve done it I’m thinking, it’s probably a good idea because we need to be transparent about our processes and provide useful and accurate information to our customers and engage with them.”
Mr Garvin says it made sense to encourage our customers to take on solar as an energy option.
“They want to connect and we want them to connect in accordance with our requirements,” he says. “All they want to know is what the requirements are. If we publish that then we will form a great rapport with our customers making the connection process much easier. Customers have knowledge of what our requirements are, it’s fantastic and they really appreciate it.”
ActewAGL is currently in the process of managing the connection of the three largest PV facilities in Australia. FRV is located at Royalla, it is 20 megawatts. The second is located near Rose Cottage near the Monaro Highway and is 13 megawatts and Elementus is at Uriarra Village which is 7-10 megawatts. The first two, the 20 and 13 megawatt facilities will be the two biggest in Australia.
Mr Garvin says ActewAGL’s success with solar is boosted by the help of detailed guidelines on the ActewAGL website that informs proponents of embedded generators on how to connect to the network. And, a new component for commercial connections (above 30kW) has secured a more reliable solar network.
“We’ve introduced a new product that we call a generator connection cubicle,” he says. “This allows an additional degree of protection between the solar facility and our network.”
Mr Garvin says the Taiwanese visit was a success as the delegation probed ActewAGL about operations.
“They didn’t stop asking questions,” he says. “They said they were very pleased with the presentation and they were impressed that we were very transparent with our documents and our processes.”
Mr Garvin says he predicts it could be the start of several visits from international delegations.
“I would expect John Grimes from the Australian Solar Council will want to bring more visitors through,” he says. “We have been recognised by the Australian Solar Council – the peak body for solar energy in Australia – for our capacity to provide a good conduit for the connection of generators to our network in a thoughtful considered way. And we get few problems compared to others; fortunately we don’t get many complaints from the public about PV connection problems. We probably only get a dozen to 20 complaints a year which is not bad from 12,000 installations. We have strategies to manage complaints and find solutions.”
Australian Solar Council Chief Executive John Grimes agreed with Mr Garvin and says he expects more international visitors will want to see ActewAGL’s solar set-up.
“In the Unites States last year they installed 40 thousand solar systems,” he says “In Australia, we’ve installed 1.3 million solar systems. And, that’s because in the US and other parts of the world they are installing large systems, businesses on farms and that sort of thing. Whereas in Australia, we put them on households.”
Mr Grimes says it is our use of solar for households that have changed the way people look at the solar industry.
“The rest of the world has a lot to learn from us about that experience,” he says “As they increase their solar penetration they’ll start to encounter all of the issues we’ve had to manage here in Australia.”
The Australian Solar Council Chief Executive believes there is genuine global interest in what we are doing here in Australia.
“We are working with the Chinese industry but also the Europeans and the Americans are they are very interested in what we’re doing,” he says. “I’d say at least 10 countries around the world are particularly interested and I think that’s a fair representation.”
Mr Grimes says the Taiwanese delegation visit made sense because Taiwan has a very strong solar manufacturing industry.
“They are the second largest manufacturer in the world,” he says. “They are an electronics expert country. So, they were coming to Australia to find out about the Australian market, understand about regulation and solar policy.”
Mr Grimes says the delegation were keen to visit a utility while they were in Australia and ActewAGL became the logical choice.
“We recommended ActewAGL for two reasons,” Mr Grimes says. “The first is ActewAGL has a reasonably high penetration rate of PV on the network. So, they’re actually seeing it and developing ways to respond to it. And, the second thing is ActewAGL’s response has been fairly positive. Obviously there are very strict guidelines you have to work within but there’s been a can-do attitude. So, that’s why we recommended that the delegation included ActewAGL on the visit.
Mr Grimes believed the Taiwanese delegation had a productive visit to ActewAGL and came away with fresh perspectives.
“They were really impressed with the transparency that ActewAGL showed,” he says. “ActewAGL has developed very clear guidelines on how you connect not just small scale but large scale solar to the grid and what’s required. And, for proponents to see that right up front, to clearly understand what’s required reduces risk for everybody because it means they know what to do and for the utility then they get compliance on the network.”
While Mr Garvin says ActewAGL has had to hit the ground running to become a leader in solar as the industry took off.
“Two years ago we had practically nothing and our knowledge was near zero in this area he says. “What’s happened is the ACT Government generous feed-in-tariff has stimulated the industry here to the point where because there are only four of us in my branch, the only way I could stop the inundation of enquiries was to research and then publish relevant documents.”
Mr Garvin says to slow down the influx of enquiries, the company simply put its information online.
“All the information on how to connect your system to the network is contained on the internet,” he says.” We even have something called a grid code (our technical requirements) on which has all the National Electricity Rules chapter 5 requirements. No other utility has got that.”
Finally, Mr Garvin says ActewAGL should be very proud of the work it has put into the solar industry.
“I think what we have here is world class,” he says. “I’ve had nothing but compliments. Our documentation is clear, it’s concise, it is transparent and we follow the process.”