A ground-breaking trial in which hundreds of Western Australian businesses modified their energy use and solar output to help stabilise the state’s rapidly transitioning grid is being extended for a second year.
WA’s government-owned network operator Western Power said this week that it would continue the Flexibility Services Pilot for another 12 months after its success in helping to navigate periods of plentiful solar generation and low electricity demand.
The pilot, which first ran between September 2020 and April 2021, enlisted 250 businesses and sites to modify their energy use and generation between 10am-2pm on specific weekends, in return for financial compensation from Western Power.
This “energy shifting” service could include shutting off solar panels for a short period of time, or moving energy-intensive activities such as cooling or water pumping to times when there is lots of cheap solar to mop up in the middle of the day.
Western Power says that over the course of the first year of the pilot, an average 20MW of energy flexibility was harnessed to support the grid – a significant amount given it was the first time that all parties had participated in a program like this.
These flexible megawatts were then used by the utility to smooth the network load and better manage the integration of other renewables on the network, while also building capability to deliver the state government’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap.
Western Australia has been at the leading edge of renewables based energy network innovations, compelled to act by the combination of a huge, isolated grid, enormous rooftop solar uptake and nimble-footed government-owned utilities supported by a renewables-forward policies.
To this end, Western Power has already installed tens of community batteries – and plans to install scores more – and shifted hundreds of customers to stand-alone solar and battery powered systems because it is cheaper and more reliable than keeping them connected at the fringes of the grid.
It is now seeking to do the same for whole communities, last week calling for proposals to help develop the state’s first “disconnected microgrids” – isolated, self-supported networks powering small towns with at least 90% renewables.
But one of the most pressing issues facing the WA grid is the amount of rooftop generated solar that floods the grid during the day – as more and more homes and businesses invest in PV systems – and how to turn that infamous Australian solar duck curve into more of a solar platypus.
The particular challenge facing Western Australia’s South West Interconnected System, as the local grid is called, is that it is the world’s most isolated multi-gigawatt network, with no connections to other states or countries.
“With rooftop solar growing at a rapid rate, balancing supply and demand on the grid for stability is essential and flexibility services is one measure that helps manage the effects of renewable energy on the grid,” said Western Power CEO Ed Kalajzic.
“This is one of several tools being implemented by our business to enable a future where more renewables can be connected to the grid while ensuring the stability of the grid,” he added.
“[It] is designed to provide flexibility in the way businesses use energy… Each customer will determine the best way to productively manage their energy in order to suit the needs of their business.
“This may include changing the time the business chooses to operate certain tasks, or even shutting off solar panels at certain times on the weekend when the business is not operating or pre-cooling at different times of day compared with the normal modes of operation.”
As RenewEconomy reported last year, one of Western Power’s key technology partners on the pilot has been Schneider Electric, which developed a distributed energy resource management platform to allow the utility to assess what flexible energy resources were available in an area, as well as managing transactions on behalf of participants.
And while many of the businesses or sites participating the in trial had to install extra “kit” to offer flexibility services, RenewEconomy understands that there was plenty of enthusiasm from those who took part, and plenty of willingness to innovate.
Kalajzic said that, in addition to financial incentives for providing energy flexibility, participants were getting the benefit of contributing to a “brighter, stronger energy future” for the state.
“It’s a collaborative learning experience between partners and our business in the direct control and the management of distributed energy resources,” he told RenewEconomy.
The program has received international recognition, too, winning a ‘Program Pacesetter’ award from the global peak body for demand management, the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA).
Stage two of the pilot, which kicked off in September of this year, has signed up seven partners, some with their own sites providing energy flexibility and others which are collaborating with their own customers to provide energy flexibility.
The total amount of businesses and sites participating in Year 2 of the Flexibility Services trial is, again, more than 200, Western Power has confirmed.
“We’re working towards an energy future that’s greener, cost-effective, and provides greater customer choice and flexibility. This program has proven to be a key step towards this,” said Kalajzic.