ARENA funds study into smarter solution for system strength issues plaguing solar, wind projects | RenewEconomy

ARENA funds study into smarter solution for system strength issues plaguing solar, wind projects

Powerlink gets ARENA funding to look at system strength issues and smarter solutions that may include battery storage, and a more centralised approach.

Kidston Solar Farm. Photo Credit: Genex

A new study will examine the potential solutions to emerging system strength issues that have plagued wind and solar projects in a number of states, with a focus on finding smart solutions that does not put the onus on individual projects.

Powerlink will receive $490,000 funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to undertake a study into different technological, business and regulatory solutions to emerging system strength issues, that have prevented new solar and wind projects being connected to the grid, or caused output from existing projects to be dramatically curtailed.

Solar and wind projects across much of Australia’s eastern states have been impacted by system strength issues, where a lack of sufficient ability to control grid frequency and voltage has caused several projects either cut back their output, to become prevented from connecting to the grid.

System strength generally refers to the power system’s ability to ride through disruptions or system disturbances, and maintain a steady supply of power.

The grid connection issues, combined with ongoing marginal loss factor challenges, have produced a major new source of uncertainty for renewable energy developers over the last year, contributing to connection delays and leading to some developers abandoning the Australian market altogether.

In April, the Australian Energy Market Operator declared a shortfall of system strength requirements in Queensland, with three wind and solar projects in the affected region hit with directions to cut output. AEMO directed  Powerlink to ensure sufficient system strength measures have been put in place by mid 2021.

Receiving government funding to complete the study, Powerlink will examine the benefits of deploying technological solutions, including synchronous condensers, changes to inverter performance and investments in improving the strength and capacity of transmission infrastructure.

An interim report has already been prepared by consultancy GHD, with input from Pacific Hydro and Sun Metals, which both operate affected solar farms in Queensland.

The project, worth a total of $900,000, with also examine the role large-scale battery technologies, and other storage technologies, can be used to support solar and wind projects when connecting to the grid. It will also look to avoid unnecessary duplication, a concern raised by other transmission companies such as Transgrid recently in NSW.

“In some cases, developers can be forced to install synchronous condensers as a local source of system strength which can come at a large cost to developers and be project-specific solutions, which are unlikely to be economically efficient,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said.

“AEMO’s Integrated System Plan has shown that, in many situations, a centralised approach to managing system strength would be more economic than developing individual solutions for each wind and solar farm.”

Miller said that finding technological solutions to grid strength issues will become more crucial as the penetration of renewable energy increases, and will help reduce project risks and costs being faced by project developers.

“Powerlink’s study will highlight a range of solutions for addressing system security challenges and will be relevant to the AEMC’s System Strength Investigation currently underway. The findings will be replicable across Australia, and can help inform the efficient design of more renewable energy zones,” Miller added.

Powerlink chief executive Kevin Kehl said that the study will focus on the current challenges faced by wind and solar projects in Queensland, but the findings and recommendations will be relevant across the entire grid.

“The report uses the North Queensland region as a case study, however the information is presented in a way that allows for potential use in other regions of the National Electricity Market currently experiencing system strength issues,” Kehl said.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor said that finding a solution to the system strength issues would be key to growing the share of renewables in Australia.

“The study will support renewable energy proponents who are trying to connect to the network, not only in the North Queensland region, but right across the country. This will ensure Australia can continue to be a world leader in renewable energy.” Taylor said.

“As highlighted by AEMO last week, we know there are still a number of steps to be taken so that the NEM can operate reliably and securely with higher levels of renewable energy, and this study is one such example.”

Powerlink expects to deliver the findings of the study before the end of 2020.

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