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Boom in rooftop PV shifting peaks, and taking market operator by surprise

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WA solar peak

The growth of rooftop solar PV in Western Australia has taken the market operator by surprise, but has resulted in a dramatic reduction in both the scale and the timing of peak demand in the state.

According to the latest statement of energy market opportunities for WA, the Australian Energy Market Operator says that rooftop solar PV – now on one in four homes and businesses in the state – reduced peak demand by 265MW, or 7.2 per cent in the last summer.

It says the uptake of rooftop solar in WA, which has been double expectations over the last two years – driven by falling costs of rooftop solar PV and the rise in grid prices – is “accelerating a paradigm shift” for the energy industry.

The biggest impact is on peak demand. The biggest peak in the state occurred on March 1, reaching 3,670MW in the 1700-1730 trading interval – the lowest since 2009.

This was helped by the contribution of rooftop solar (265MW in that peak interval), and from demand response (124MW), a technology that AEMO wants to deploy more in the eastern states for the same reason.

“The rapid adoption of rooftop solar is not only slowing annual operational consumption growth but also eroding the mid-day grid demand and shifting peak demand to later in the day,” said AEMO’s Executive General Manager – Western Australia, Cameron Parrotte.

“With the strong growth in rooftop solar installations anticipated, AEMO expects demand in the middle of the day to shrink further, resulting in a rapid increase in demand in the lead up to the evening peak once the sun sets.”

This “duck curve” – or as AEMO’s new CEO Audrey Zibelman now describes it, “emu curve” – will have a growing impact on market operations, with the difference between minimum and maximum demand doubling from 600MW to 1100MW in the last eight years.

Parrotte says this may result in issues for gas generation, and a lift in prices, but the report also notes the potential for a big uptake of battery storage over the next 10 years, which could help manage the peaks and the ramping in demand as solar PV winds down in the evening.

“Both large and small-scale storage can have positive effects on system security by providing a buffer to steep ramp rates that may be associated with high levels of renewable generation, and smooth out system peaks,” AEMO says in an earlier discussion document on renewable energy.

“This can reduce the need for gas-fired peaking and load following generation.”

AEMO says that over the past year, about 125MW of new rooftop solar PV was installed, representing an increase in total rooftop PV capacity in the SWIS of around 20 per cent.

This was way ahead of previous forecasts, made in 2015, which expected 564MW by June, 2017. By February, the total reached 671MW and is now more than 720MW.

WA rooftop forecasts

The state now has around 230,000 rooftop solar systems, and the pace shows no sign of slowing, given the falling cost of solar and the rising price of grid power, which in WA is subsidised by around $550 million a year, or around 30 per cent of its actual cost.

AEMO expects rooftop solar to treble over the next 10 years, to more than 2,000MW in the high scenario, with battery storage likely to grow to more than 450MWh.

Those subsidies are likely to be wound back, resulting in a further increase in the uptake of rooftop solar PV, a factor that AEMO says is being accelerated by alternative business models such as solar leasing.  

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  • Chris

    I just love those linear projections that the economic modellers come up with! Might be able to get an economic consultancy job myself if that is all I had to come up with!

    • Ren Stimpy

      Agree. The fact that it’s a “disruption” is a clue that it’s not going to be so nice and neat.

      • Mark Roest

        Agree. Check out Tony Seba’s views on disruption. Expect ‘tornado of demand’ — especially when crashing battery prices and spiking performance cause that to happen with battery electric vehicles, and everyone wakes up to the fact that solar plus BEVs equals free fuel, as soon as you’ve paid off the system costs with savings.

        • Ren Stimpy

          TS makes a compelling case. These are interesting times in history for those who follow economics or technology – and cause for optimism for those following the problem of climate change.

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    • Alastair Leith

      Agree, the funny thing is that in Australia the national uptake from 2011-2015 was dead linear, even though globally the rate is a doubling of deployed capacity every two years. Various states had different non-linear growth patterns, indicating state FiTs and charges have an impact. Looks like there’s some lift back in the sails of solar.

  • Brian Tehan

    Perhaps they should incentivise West facing facing panels to help with the late afternoon.

    • George Darroch

      In a few years I think people will have both.

  • Ray Miller

    What if some encouragement was made to have a slight change to the new PV installations. Most solar inverters have two PV array inputs and what if one of the PV arrays was encouraged to be on the western aspect roof section. The result would flatten (make it less peaky) the energy supplied to the grid, make available more self consumption energy to the owner at a time when the local load is increasing and any excess can be exported. Everybody wins.
    Then if induction cook tops were replacing the resistive element ones, a double whammy assault on the evening peak.
    We all need to think of the ‘load’ as part of the energy system which then dramatically expands the number of solutions and opportunities for cost reductions and efficiencies.

    • Rod

      Agree, a lot more western aspect PV should be encouraged. With the pitiful FiTs paid now installers should be prompting buyers to oversize and split their array.
      Just looking at the extra generation the tracking solar farms get in the late afternoon shows how useful this can be.

    • Brad

      This is something I have been saying for ages they should make it (unless you have no option) that it must go between say 30-60 degrees west of north, I know this reduces the total output but produces much more useful energy as I have never seen them run out of power at 10 in the morning when NE facing panel produce the most power

  • Johnnydadda

    7% is market share in this economy, it’s about time for a community domestic solar union that uses this market share to get realistic feed-in tariffs.

  • Brunel

    AUS has ducks. What the heck is an emu curve?

    • George Darroch

      If it quacks like a duck…