Powerlink’s Network Connections Manager, Simon Taylor, explains some of the key aspects to having a well prepared connection enquiry. Simon has over 13 years’ experience in managing grid connections as part of Powerlink’s $1 billion non-regulated portfolio – the largest in Australia.
Renewable projects in Australia are flourishing. With the Federal Government and numerous state governments setting Renewable Energy Targets, projects are emerging across the country to meet the growing demand for sustainable energy.
Queensland in particular is a hotbed of renewable activity, with Powerlink currently assessing 167 connection enquiries with capacity of almost 38,000MW.
Proposed projects stretch along Powerlink’s 1700km transmission network from north of Cairns to the New South Wales border.
While the large volume of connection enquiries demonstrates a high level of interest in developing renewable energy projects, it is important that connection enquiries are well prepared to maximise the potential of quick and successful connection to the grid.
Without exception, the projects that have executed a Connection and Access Agreement and developed a viable delivery program have undertaken significant leg work upfront.
Although connection is obviously one of the last stages in the physical process, understanding this system early in a project’s development has the potential to save a lot of work down the track.
Understand the regulatory environment
Before a potential generator even begins to think about a specific project, it’s important they have a firm understanding of the often complex rules, systems and processes that govern Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM).
The NEM operates under a closely managed framework. Understanding the connection process – especially the generator performance standard requirements and the rules the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) uses to operate the NEM – is crucial for securing the ability to export to the grid.
Marginal loss factors are another crucial dynamic for generators to understand. Put simply, marginal loss factors (MLFs) represent how much power you lose in dollar terms based on your location selection.
MLFs are a key factor in determining the revenue you will be paid for the energy you generate. AEMO publishes MLF information on its website and any potential generator should be as familiar as possible with this data and changes that may occur to MLFs in the future.
Understanding MLFs can be the difference between a viable project and an abandoned project.
It’s never too early to start communicating with the network service provider you intend to connect to. In Queensland, that means talking to either Powerlink or Energy Queensland. Which network provider you speak to will largely depend on the size of the connection you are seeking and location to existing network assets.
The earlier that network providers are aware of a project, the more helpful they can be. Some proponents line up every other aspect of their project before contacting the network service provider. In reality, connection to the grid is a long lead time activity and waiting until the last moment to make contact with network providers can result in wasted time, effort and money if a project needs to be re-scoped.
Powerlink has Australia’s most experienced transmission network connection team, dedicated to helping deliver viable, successful renewable energy projects, on time and on budget. Our network connection experience can help proponents avoid unnecessary pitfalls.
There’s no perfect site
Site selection is a process of trade-offs. No site is ever perfect so it comes down to understanding the variables that feed into site optimisation and how each will impact on the project.
Factors like proximity to the grid, magnitude of local demand, location of other generators, land topography, and obviously the quality of the renewable resource all play a significant role. But the real challenge is managing how these factors all interact with each other.
A large, flat coastal site may provide access to a premium renewable resource, facilitate easy construction and be close to the grid — but the trade-off is that the site acquisition is likely to be very costly.
A similar site located further inland may provide a better overall balance
— even if it’s further from the network or has a lesser renewable resource
— if the site acquisition cost is not as onerous.
Other factors that should also be considered include:
- What constraints are there on the network and what demand exists locally?
- Is the site located near a population centre?
- Is it well serviced by roads, bridges and water?
- Is the local government authority amenable to renewable projects?
- Does the local zoning and approvals regime help facilitate projects?
- All of these factors will have an impact on different stages of a project’s development and need to be taken into account in early planning.
Bringing it all together
There’s no doubt it’s an exciting time to be working in the renewables space, but proponents need to consider a lot of variables to make their project a success.
The key to delivering a great renewable energy project comes down to careful planning, good site selection and early collaboration with network service providers. But before proponents even begin to think about sites, they need to know what is occurring across the network right now and have a good understanding of what’s coming in the future.