AEMO pushes solar register as rooftop installations head to 56GW

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AEMO sets out guidelines for solar register as it tries to capture detail of solar installations, which are heading to 56GW and will be biggest energy source in country.

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The Australian Energy Market Operator has moved closer to creating its first detailed database on distributed resources, as the country’s energy supply continues to fragment and rooftop solar installations head towards 56,000MW.

AEMO on Friday issued guidelines for the DER database, which will seek to capture all existing and future installations of rooftop solar, battery storage, electric vehicles and other equipment that has until now been largely invisible to the grid operator.

The database is considered critical to the effective management of the grid, which over the next 10 to 20 years is likely to source up to half of all its power needs from DER, mostly through rooftop solar installed by households and businesses, and supplemented by battery storage, and possibly even EVs.

AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman said in a statement that the register, or database, would lay the foundation to build the world’s most dynamic two-way energy system and market, that would underpin Australia’s future energy system. And the world is watching how it will be done.

“Australian consumers lead the world in installing distributed energy resources, such as rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems, which means these emerging technologies will play a fundamental role in how we maintain a safe, reliable, secure and affordable energy system,” Zibelman said.

She noted that AEMO’s Integrated System Plan (ISP), a 20-year blueprint, last year forecast that by 2040 the National Electricity Market – the main grid located in the eastern states – will host between 21GW and 56GW of rooftop PV capacity, making it the highest generation capacity technology in the NEM.

The increase in rooftop solar installations over the past year – 1.5GW in 2018 and heading for 2GW in 2019 – along with incentives such as Victoria’s solar rebate and a target of 2.6GW of additional by 2028, suggest that the number might come out near the top end.

Australia already has more than 8GW of rooftop solar, with Queensland leading the way with 2.4GW and NSW catching up with 2GW. They are located on more than two million rooftops, mostly households but increasingly small business.

AEMO’s head of emerging markets and services, Violette Mouchaileh, said the register would help AEMO integrate rooftop solar PV into its system, and plan for the future. Crucially, the database will open at the start of summer, giving AEMO more visibility over an increasingly important part of the energy system as it deals with hot summer peaks, surges in demand, and failure of large scale thermal units.

“Our program of work includes the design, testing and contribution to regulatory reform to build a world-first, two-way energy system and market,” Mouchaileh said.

“The DER register and information guidelines released today are a major step towards building the first national database to enable the realisation of consumer value and enhance power system reliability via DER installed in homes and businesses across Australia.”

The biggest challenge will be in getting rooftop solar PV and battery installers to add to the database as installations continue.

But this is just the first part of a plan by AEMO to, not just identify the location of DER, and monitor their performance, but also to be able to manage and “orchestrate” these resources so that they become part of grid operations. This includes so-called “virtual power plants” where solar and battery and demand management systems are linked to act as a single unit.

“The deep penetration of DER throughout Australia presents opportunities to exchange consumer value that can support the electricity system moving forward, and challenges for managing power system reliability,” the guidelines document says.

“Effective integration of DER assets with electricity and ancillary service markets, and within the local constraints of the network, is necessary to maximise the potential value of these consumer-led investments while ensuring effective market and system operation into the future.”

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