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Addressing challenges in transmission to enable a higher penetration of renewables

The Australian Energy Market Operator began the foundation work for long-term planning of the electricity network through the release of the 2020 Draft Integrated System Plan. The Integrated System Plan identified “no-regret” new and augmented transmission infrastructure that provides value to the electricity grid in its current state and any future states. Some of these “no-regret” investments progressed further in late 2019. Announcements were made to

upgrade the New South Wales – Queensland interconnector and to construct a new interconnector between New South Wales and South Australia.

The augmentation to the New South Wales – Queensland interconnector has also considered the use of grid-scale batteries as they can be completed in half the time of standard physical upgrades and at a lower cost. The battery option was not adopted in this case but presents a new alternative way to support grid infrastructure as battery costs decline.

Unexpected network outages demonstrated the ability of grid-scale batteries to provide essential short to medium grid stabilisation capabilities and avoid rolling blackouts. In late 2019, the tripping of the Heywood interconnector between Victoria and South Australia resulted in South Australia becoming islanded. In addition to the re-routing of gas generation, blackouts were prevented in part due to the grid-scale batteries in the State—Hornsdale Power Reserve, Lake Bonney Battery System and Dalrymple Battery System— quickly switching from charging to discharging in a manner that maintained frequency within allowable limits. Solar and wind generation also picked up in the short term to allow for baseload plants to ramp up and provide the synchronous generation required.

Australian government agencies have continued to diversify funding priorities to align with the new requirements in a transforming electricity network. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation have directed their investment strategies and priorities for the coming years to focus on storage technologies to support the transition of the electricity grid towards a higher penetration of renewables.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation investing in the grid to support more renewable energy

The Clean Energy Financial Corporation continues to bring a unique combination of financial expertise, technical knowledge and industry experience to address some of the nation’s most intractable energy and emissions challenges.

The Clean Energy Financial Corporation finance remains central to filling market gaps, whether driven by technology, development or commercial challenges. In supporting the continued growth of the renewables sector, we are also increasingly focused on renewable energy projects which operate in the most strategic parts of the grid, and those that potentially benefit from a hybrid of technologies across solar, storage and wind.

The critical transition to a lower emissions grid must include investment in additional solar and wind renewables, as well as firming technologies such as pumped storage which address constrained systems and declining thermal capacity. There are also significant investment requirements in delivering scale-efficient electricity network infrastructure and connecting proposed Renewable Energy Zones to load centres.

In parallel, market interest in battery and pumped hydro storage gathers pace, alongside measures to harness distributed energy resources, deliver virtual power plants and enhance demand management. Appropriate and planned investment in these technologies, including those outlined in the Australian Energy Market Operator Integrated System Plan, all have the potential to deliver a higher penetration of renewables as we transition to a cleaner energy market.

While awaiting further direction on the Australian Government’s proposed $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund, the Clean Energy Financial Corporation is looking ahead.

This includes investigating emerging investible opportunities such as pumped storage, biofuels and hydrogen, alongside our continuing focus on the next wave of investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency opportunities.

This content was provided by the Clean Energy Financial Corporation.

Commercial solar panel installation, Australian Capital Territory. Photo: Clean Energy Regulator.

Record rates of solar PV installations at both the residential and commercial level are also presenting challenges in performance management of some distribution networks. Before the wide-scale uptake of rooftop solar PV, distribution networks experienced electricity flow in one direction from predictable electricity sources. Rooftop solar PV introduces variable and often uncontrolled bi-directional electricity flow and voltage fluctuations.

In Victoria commitments to upgrade key distribution networks to plan for 95 per cent of households to install solar PV have been announced by Powercor, United Energy and CitiPower. This forward planning will assist in a smooth transition to a high penetration of solar PV in those distribution networks by allowing for necessary distribution network capacity changes to be made and greater scrutiny of the types of solar PV systems being installed. This will support greater visibility and controllability of solar PV systems to network service providers and may avoid the need for measures such as zero export limits being enforced. A substantial number of batteries are being piloted as virtual power stations to assess the benefits to customers and network performance.

Tesla battery installation
Workers on site at Coopers Gap Farm. Photo: PARF Group.

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