Western Australia is launching a $35.5 million project that will test the ability of the market operator and network companies to “orchestrate” the output of rooftop solar and battery storage as it learns how to best deal with the growing amount of distributed energy in the grid.
The project – dubbed Project Symphony – is seeking 500 customers with more than 900 DER (distributed energy resource) assets such as rooftop solar, battery storage and major appliances, which will be operate as a type of “virtual power plant”, delivering grid services and cheaper and more reliable power.
The the trial, which is expected to run until June 2023, is a partnership between network company Western Power, generator and retailer Synergy, Energy Policy WA and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).
It will get $19.3 million of funding from the WA McGowan Labor government, $7.6 million from AEMO and $8.6 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The top up in funding from the federal government comes as Western Australia becomes the second state in the nation to enable AEMO to order residential rooftop solar systems to be switched off remotely as an emergency measure to keep the grid stable.
The new measure, which follows the lead of South Australia in September last year, will come into play early next year as a tool “of last resort,” the McGowan government said, for use over short periods on days when abundant rooftop solar generation sent grid demand to critically low levels.
To facilitate the shut-down mechanism, all new or upgraded solar systems (with inverter capacity 5kW and below) installed on the state’s main grid, the South West Interconnected System, will be required to have the capability to be remotely switched off and on, starting February 14, 2022.
In announcing WA’s adoption of the new measures, state energy minister Bill Johnston stressed that the government would continue to favour technology that provided the flexibility to turn rooftop solar output down, rather than switch it off.
Virtual power plants like that being trialled via Project Symphony offer one such “flexible” alternative and will play a key role in the McGowan government’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap.
“DER [distributed energy resources] presents an opportunity to increase consumer value and reduce costs for all consumers,” said ARENA CEO Darren Miller on Wednesday.
“The rapid growth in DER uptake reflects households taking advantage of the rapid development of new technology to store and manage energy, bolstered by recent state government incentive packages.
“However, without appropriate coordination of DER, network operators may be required to curtail DER output to manage constraints. Project Symphony aims to address these issues and highlight the benefits that orchestration can provide to consumers and the energy system.”
Another alternative to the solar switch-off, which recently entered its second year of trials led by Western Power, has seen hundreds of WA businesses modify their energy use and solar output to help stabilise the grid.
The Flexibility Services Pilot is targeted specifically at helping to navigate periods of plentiful solar generation and low electricity demand in WA, and – in this year’s trial – has enlisted 250 businesses to the cause.
These businesses and sites will be called upon to modify their energy use and solar 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.
Minister Johnston said Project Symphony would test how increased access to renewables could benefit communities, more broadly, and was a “major deliverable” of the Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap.
“Importantly, the trial will ensure that WA homes and businesses receive affordable, safe and reliable power,” he said.
Around 500 homes and businesses will be invited to participate in the pilot from the south-eastern Perth suburbs of Piara Waters and Harrisdale, where 50 per cent of households have installed rooftop solar.
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