Dr Peter Wong and Jignesh Patel from Jemena
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Distributed Energy Resources (DER) have the power to revolutionise the way Australia produces and uses electricity, with many homes and businesses already generating their own energy. Now, an exciting new project is implementing novel technologies and systems to further increase the uptake of DER, with trials planned to explore how existing electricity infrastructure can better respond to expected growth in the use of solar and other technologies.

The Creating Solar Friendly Neighbourhoods trial, taking place in Greenvale, Victoria, running from November 2019 to February 2021.

The trial is an alliance between Jemena, AusNet Services and the University of NSW, Sydney, and is supported by the Hume City Council and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program.

The trials, which are being undertaken in Jemena and AusNet Services’ electricity distribution networks, will use new technologies to improve the ability of network operators to monitor the low-voltage network, while intelligent systems proactively manage grid power and voltage to increase DER penetration.

Managing increased DER

According to Jemena’s Network Technology and Measurement Manager, Dr Peter Wong, the existing infrastructure of the electricity grid is experiencing increased pressure as more customers install rooftop solar and move towards electric vehicles and other electric alternatives that require heavy electricity usage.

“The electricity distribution grid is designed to transmit electricity from central power stations, not from distributed ‘power stations’ in the form of rooftop solar systems,” Dr Wong said.

“In addition, solar has variable generation characteristics due to the amount of sun available at different times of the year, cloud cover and shading that sometimes occurs during the day which can further affect the quality and reliability of electricity supply.”

Eager to overcome these challenges, Jemena is participating in the Creating Solar Friendly Neighbourhoods trial to support the growth of solar in a sustainable way, with the trial in Greenvale involving 110 Jemena customers.

“This area was chosen as around 25 per cent of our customers in this area have rooftop solar compared to an overall average of ten per cent for our whole network,” Dr Wong said.

Technology on trial

In order to better meet changing energy demand, maintain quality and reliability of supply and utilise excess power generated by rooftop solar during the day, three intelligent control technologies are being introduced in the trial.

These include dynamic phase switching, dynamic power compensation and a grid battery. This trial is the first time the dynamic phase switching and dynamic power consumption technologies are being used in Australia.

These technologies are designed to:

  • Allow more customers to install rooftop solar to feed more renewable energy into the grid by introducing dynamic phase switching
  • Better utilise rooftop solar by introducing a grid battery to store excess solar-generated power for use during peak demand times
  • Balance the load, stabilise voltages, increase efficiency, decrease the likelihood of power outages, and allow more customers to install rooftop solar by introducing dynamic power compensation

The project is also expected to demonstrate how power electronics technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) communication and autonomous software programs can alter network characteristics on a real-time basis, promoting more DER to export energy into the network.

“The learnings from this trial will help Jemena to plan for future integration of intelligent technologies within the existing electricity grid, benefitting all customers in Jemena’s network in the future,” Dr Wong said.

A collaborative effort

While Jemena and AusNet Services are each working at different network locations, the companies are both demonstrating two technologies to compare the performance of phase shifting and power compensation at locations with different characteristics.

This allows the technologies to be tested and observed under different network and environmental conditions.

“For example, the AusNet Services demonstration site is in a heavily vegetated area with a combination of open-wire and insulated conductors, whereas the Jemena site is in a flat suburban terrain with open-wire construction,” Dr Wong said.

A number of test cases will be run where the technologies will be required to perform according to the design principles and equipment specifications to assess the technical performance of the technologies and software used in the trial.

“Extensive data collection will be undertaken during the test cases and at normal operation. The data will be analysed to assess the technical performance of the technologies and automation software,” Dr Wong said.

Challenges and outcomes

According to Dr Wong, integration of new technologies into the existing grid could pose installation and operational challenges.

“The response crew needs to be trained for timely response on the new equipment. Finding land suitable for installation of the battery cubicle is also a challenge,” Dr Wong said.

Though these challenges may be difficult to work through, overcoming them will lead to exciting outcomes for participating customers, as well as the energy industry.

The benefits of the trial include:

  • Existing solar customers will be able to feed more excess power into the grid
  • More customers will be able to add rooftop solar generation with less restrictions
  • Improvement in reliability of supply
  • More local supply during high usage times

Traditional low-voltage distribution networks are not designed for the two-way flow of electricity created by DER, resulting in reliability, power quality and safety challenges.

With existing technologies, once a certain level of DER penetration is reached, new connections must be restricted.

This project will demonstrate how power electronics technologies, IoT communication and autonomous software programs can dynamically alter network characteristics to allow more DER to export energy into the network.

This will relieve local network constraints that hinder the provision of new DER services.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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