ARENA Powerlink system strength study
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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has awarded $490,629 to a transmission network operator to undertake a study in system strength challenges.

Powerlink was awarded the funding to investigate technical, commercial and regulatory solutions to Australia’s system strength challenges. 

Powerlink’s study will explore the merits of several technical solutions, as well as business and regulatory models, to facilitate lower cost solutions and remove commercial barriers.

As the energy industry transitions to a lower carbon future, system strength has emerged as a prominent challenge impacting renewable generation projects and the National Electricity Market (NEM).

System strength is an essential grid security service and represents the ability of a power system to remain stable under normal conditions, and to return to a steady state following a system disturbance. 

Current wind, solar PV and battery technologies do not typically contribute to system strength.

The $900,000 project will explore several existing technology options for managing system strength and supporting the integration of renewables into the grid. 

These include installing synchronous condensers, changing inverter settings or strengthening transmission infrastructure.

Powerlink’s study is expected to be complete in late 2020.

As part of the wider project, Powerlink is also looking at whether emerging storage technologies such as grid-scale batteries can be tied to solar or wind farms to support system strength.

As a first step in the project, Powerlink commissioned GHD to prepare an initial report on system strength. 

This report will drive a better understanding on how system strength can impact investment in generation and transmission network assets. Solar farm operators Pacific Hydro and Sun Metals supported the report’s development. 

The report will inform submissions to Australian Energy Market Commission’s (AEMC) System Strength Review.

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said system strength is a complex and technical subject that has evolved over time, and this project will help provide a clear and common understanding of the system strength concept, how it can be managed and network implications.

The ongoing study aims to help wind and solar developers facing difficulties with grid connection due to limited system strength, and to help reduce project risks, delays and costs.

“In some cases, developers can be forced to install synchronous condensers as a local source of system strength which can come at a large cost to developers and be project-specific solutions, which are unlikely to be economically efficient,” Mr Miller said.

“The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Integrated System Plan has shown that, in many situations, a centralised approach to managing system strength would be more economic than developing individual solutions for each wind and solar farm.

“Powerlink’s study will highlight a range of solutions for addressing system security challenges and will be relevant to the AEMC’s System Strength Investigation currently underway. The findings will be replicable across Australia, and can help inform the efficient design of more renewable energy zones.”

Powerlink Chief Executive, Kevin Kehl, said the report and ongoing work would be an important input to the AEMC system strength review.

“The report uses the North Queensland region as a case study, however the information is presented in a way that allows for potential use in other regions of the NEM currently experiencing system strength issues,” Mr Kehl said.

Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, Angus Taylor, said the study would provide a chance for Powerlink Queensland to review both the opportunities and challenges presented by connecting large-scale renewable generators to the NEM.

Mr Taylor cited a report published on 30 April 2020 by AEMO, which laid out the challenges of integrating record amounts of renewable energy, with record levels of wind and solar generation added to the network in 2019.

“As highlighted by AEMO last week, we know there are still a number of steps to be taken so that the NEM can operate reliably and securely with higher levels of renewable energy, and this study is one such example,” he said.

Mr Taylor said this new study will provide further insight to the discussion and planning for the future of Australia’s energy security.

“Through the study, we are hoping to better understand the intricacies of system strength so that we can continue to keep the lights on and power prices down for households and business.

“The study will also support renewable energy proponents who are trying to connect to the network, not only in the North Queensland region, but right across the country. This will ensure Australia can continue to be a world leader in renewable energy.”

View more information of the study here.

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