The South Australian Government and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) have released a report detailing the state’s plan to reach 100 per cent renewable energy.

The South Australian Government commissioned cutting- edge power system modelling by AEMO on how to manage low demand conditions due to a decade of unmanaged rooftop solar uptake. 

The plan, A secure transition to affordable renewable energy, identified the SA-NSW interconnector as a priority for the state’s energy security.

South Australian Minister for Energy and Mining, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, said, “The single most important finding of AEMO’s report is that the SA-NSW interconnector is critical to the long-term security of South Australia’s electricity system.

“The delivery of the 800MW Project EnergyConnect will enable the continued growth of household solar installations whilst driving down the price of power and keeping the entire electricity system stable.”

The Clean Energy Council said stronger network interconnection was integral to a 21st-century energy system, and that the South Australian Government’s commitment to Project EnergyConnect would modernise the grid, drive down power prices and unlock the next wave of large-scale and household-level renewable energy.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton, said, “The project has been burdened by a regulatory process and RIT-T that is no longer fit for purpose.

“Accelerating Project EnergyConnect is key to addressing the challenges identified in the AEMO report, as is continued investment in energy storage at the household, community and utility scale.”

The South Australian Government is already underwriting early works to accelerate the project as fast as possible.

Energy Networks Australia CEO, Andrew Dillon, said the report reinforced the important role already being played by networks to provide critical grid stability.

“Synchronous condensers and network scale batteries, like those delivered by ElectraNet in SA, are already helping keep the lights on and the grid stable,” Mr Dillon said.

“Energy security is no longer about producing enough electricity, with the surge of solar we now face the challenge of at times having too much for the system to cope.

“A more interconnected grid is a more stable and reliable grid.” 

SA Power Networks’ Manager Corporate Affairs, Paul Roberts, said, “While we see our state’s energy transformation as an exciting opportunity, South Australia has some very specific challenges in managing our electricity system due to high levels of rooftop solar generation and comparatively low levels of energy demand.”

Mr Roberts said the challenges impact all levels of the state’s energy system and ultimately put the security, reliability and quality of supply at risk.

“SA Power Networks has been engaging with customers, stakeholders, rule makers, industry and manufacturers to develop prudent, cost-effective approaches to deal with emerging issues in the electricity distribution network due to rapidly increasing levels of solar generation in our system,” Mr Roberts said. 

These initiatives include:

  • Introduction from 1 July 2020 of new residential Time-of-Use network tariffs recently approved by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). These ‘solar sponge’ tariffs provide cheaper daytime network charges to encourage use of more solar-generated energy during the middle of the day
  • Encouraging more loads, such as water heating, to shift to the daytime to soak up extra (and cheaper) solar generation
  • With the support of the State Government, investing in enhanced voltage management and providing emergency backstop capabilities if required by AEMO
  • Monitoring and analytics in the low voltage network to provide better real-time visibility of what is happening in local networks
  • Developing industry approaches and standards to support introduction of flexible export limits for rooftop solar to respond to what is happening in the network at any given time

AEMO identified the threat of another system blackout in its report unless short-, medium- and long- term improvements to the system were implemented.

“The State Government will also introduce new smart solar standards in South Australia, ahead of national changes, to ensure that new solar supports the grid during disturbances and can be managed like any other generator when needed to support energy security,” Mr van Holst Pellekaan said. 

“The State Government is also underwriting a $10 million investment in voltage management by SA Power Networks. Bringing forward this investment will allow South Australia to securely host more rooftop solar and improve the quality of power received at people’s houses.”

Mr Roberts said SA Power Networks welcomed specific initiatives announced by the State Government that will assist in managing the issues in the distribution network and support actions already underway, including:

  • Making it mandatory for retailers to offer customers innovative network tariffs to soak up daytime solar
  • Establishing consistent solar, inverter and appliance standards for manufacturers and ensuring installer compliance
  • Working with Virtual Power Plant (VPP) proponents in SA to ensure they assist in managing network issues

AEMO, SA Power Networks, ElectraNet and Essential Services Commission of South Australia (ESCOSA)  have all collaborated with the South Australian Government to address the risks to the SA grid until Project EnergyConnect is delivered.

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