Powerlink says it is about to become the first transmission company in Australia to deliver “system strength as a service”, electing to install its own large synchronous condenser in north Queensland and then sell the “service” to wind and solar farms in the region.
The idea is being pitched as a way of removing the need for individual wind and solar farms to install – often at great expense – their own synchronous condensers, and could help make grid investment more efficient, as well as smoothing the way for more wind and solar farms.
Numerous wind and solar farms in Queensland, NSW and Victoria have been forced to install synchronous condensers to guarantee their output can reach their destination. But the ad hoc nature of the installations has been criticised by transmission companies such as Transgrid who say that the machines may be doing more harm to grid security than good.
In South Australia, ElectraNet is installing at least four synchronous condensers to boost system strength, but is doing so as a “regulated” asset after a shortfall was identified by the Australian Energy Market Operator several years ago.
Powerlink is taking a novel approach by dodging the regulatory regime and stepping into the market itself, prompted by the proposed 157MW Kaban wind farm that is to be built around 80kms south of Cairns, in a weak part of the grid that has already impacted the output of the Sun Metals and Haughton solar farms, and the Mt Emerald wind farm.
Powerlink CEO Paul Simshauser says system strength is one of the most significant issues facing transmission networks in Australia, and the company will be the first to offer such assets as a service
“Far North Queensland has some of the best renewable resources in Australia. By providing new system strength support, Powerlink is laying the foundation for potentially hundreds of additional megawatts of clean energy in the state’s north,” Simshauser said in a statement.
“Currently there are parts of our network, like North Queensland, where the inherent system strength has been significantly reduced. Typically that means new projects have to bring their own system strength support which adds significant costs.
“Rather than have each project bring their own synchronous condenser that only meets their system strength requirements, Powerlink will install a larger synchronous condenser and then on-sell system strength to multiple projects.
“The model significantly reduce costs for individual projects as we can take advantage of economies of scale. It will allow us to continue to connect large scale renewable projects throughout Queensland while still ensuing the security of the transmission network.”
The first part of the deal was signed this week with Neoen, which is building the 157MW Kaban wind farm after landing a contract for the bulk of the output with the state-owned CleanCo.
Powerlink will install a synchronous condenser large enough to support Neoen’s project in Far North Queensland, as well as other new renewable generation projects. Details for the size and cost of the project, or the fees that would apply, were not released.
“Powerlink will provide the system strength solution to connecting the renewable generator or battery customer on a long-term fee for service model,” the company said in a statement. “The cost would be calculated on a case by case basis, and influenced by a number of factors such as connection location, size and the mitigation measure required.”
It is not clear whether the new syncon built for Kaban could also relieve the constraints suffered by Sun Metals, Haughton or Mt Emerald, or whether they would seek to purchase such a service.
Simshauser says Powerlink believes the model can be rolled out across the state, helping it achieve the Queensland Labor government’s target of 50 per cent renewable by 2030, although that target may be in doubt if the opposition LNP win this month’s state election.
Note: Updated with response from Powerlink.
A synchronous condenser is essentially a “spinning machine” that does not burn fuel, but can deliver the “synchronous” energy delivered by other spinning turbines. Once built in South Australia, it will likely mean that AEMO will no longer need to issue directions to gas fired power plants to fire up to provide those services, further reducing the share of gas generation in that state and lifting limits on wind and solar output.