ARENA goes behind the meter, as consumers rush to solar, storage, EVs

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Australian Renewable Energy Agency announces distributed energy as a major focus for its remaining funding pool, as the transition to renewables enters its next critical – and unstoppable – phase.

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(AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has announced a new focus on making the best use of Australia’s record breaking rooftop solar uptake – and its impending battery storage and electric vehicle booms – as one of the major frontiers of an increasingly renewables dominated grid.

The Agency, which has around $1.2 billion of funding remaining from its initial allocation of $2 billion – $400 million of which is yet to be allocated – on Wednesday announced the launch of a new initiative called DEIP, or Distributed Energy Integration Program.

It is the first major initiative announced by the new CEO, Darren Miller, and came in his first public presentation at the All Energy conference in Melbourne. It also signals the next phase of the clean energy transition.

The program, will see major energy industry bodies collaborate on a “whole variety of things” to drive the success of distributed energy: from virtual power plants, access to data, markets for distributed energy resources, demand response, rule changes, to network restraints.

The joint initiative will involve ARENA, Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Australia Energy Market Commission (AEMC), Australian Energy Regulator, Clean Energy Regulator, Energy Consumers Australia, Clean Energy Council, Australian Energy Council, Energy Networks Australia, CSIRO and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

“We’re interested in how a distribution network can operate with high shares of solar PV, with minimal limits on exporting to the grid,” said Miller in a keynote address/.

“We’re interested in how a whole region can be operated securely for those periods where the total output from solar PV might be greater than demand.”

Miller, who before taking the reins at ARENA just five weeks ago, co-founded upstart energy retailer Mojo Power, said while the Agency was still focused on driving and integrating large-scale renewables, its focus had shifted with the rapidly changing technology and economics.

“The question is no longer whether wind and solar are the energy sources of the future. The question is how far they can penetrate and how fast this can happen,” he said.

“Now that wind and solar are the cheapest forms of bulk energy supply, we’re increasingly focused on ways to deliver an overall affordable, secure and reliable energy system with much higher shares of renewable energy.”

Miller said that integrating the vast amounts of solar on Australian homes and businesses was one of ARENA’s key priorities, as distributed PV installed by consumers grows from its current 3-4 per cent of grid penetration, to forecast levels of around 50 per cent.

“We cannot prevent this transition to distributed energy, and nor should we attempt to, Miller told the conference. “This is a large opportunity and big change for our energy system.

“There are currently over 1.8 million rooftop solar systems already installed in Australia, and this is only expected to grow as more Australians install home batteries, home energy management systems, smart appliances and start driving electric cars.

“The uptake of these technologies is only expected to grow which is why we need to grapple with the implications of this now,” he said.

And if we don’t he warned, “an energy system where most people are generating their own energy may end up costing us twice – once for the grid out there, and again for the grid we’ve created in our homes and our businesses.

“The solution… is for the energy system to embrace and collaborate with consumers to achieve best outcome for both.”

Miller said ARENA and other DIEP participants would work together to grow penetration of distributed energy resources in Australia through improved cost and time efficiencies, informing energy consumers and supporting the development of innovative business models.

“Ultimately what is needed is to allow consumers to participate in the energy system,” he told the conference.

“The energy system needs to evolve to enable new players to enter the market

“Retailers, who occupy a prime position here, have not always shown the necessary speed and innovation…

“It is still too hard to know what is going on at the customer side – how much energy they’re using, how much their systems are producing, and what load management exists in the form of batteries and other demand-side technologies.

“Regulations need to catch up to consumer desires. …And crucially, as more and more solar and batteries are installed, we need to ensure that the grid operated safely and securely for all,” he said.

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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