Rooftop solar cap? Network suggests limit to regional PV installs

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Powercor solar pre-approval system to let small customers know if there is too much solar in their area and they need to find another solution.

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Not everyone can install solar PV on their roof: renters and people who live in apartments, for example, or home owners with overshadowed roofs. But what if you couldn’t install solar on your roof because there was too much installed PV capacity on your local grid already?

The potential for that exact scenario to happen was raised this week by Powercor’s Lara Olsen, a speaker at the All-Energy Australia conference in Melbourne on Wednesday.

VictorianCollections-large

Olsen, who is manager of Future Network Technologies at CitiPower and Powercor, said the Victorian network operator was in the process of launching a revised online pre-approval process for customers wanting to install solar.

The new program, said Olsen, means “small customers will know straight away if they can connect solar or if there is too much solar in that area and we need to find another solution.”

What this other solution might be, Olsen didn’t say, but Powercor is working on sorting that part out. The utility, which services outer western Melbourne and rural Victoria, is participating in a interstate trial led by the University of Technology in Sydney that has the broad aim improving the economics of local energy generation for Australian consumers.

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The project’s focus is to trial Virtual Net Metering and Local Network Charges, which it is doing at five sites in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, supported by $250,000 funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). The trials will test how these work and the best and fairest way of calculating them.

For Powercor to be making provisions for an overload of distributed solar is an interesting move, though, for a network that, at this stage, has just a 13.4 per cent penetration of rooftop PV – about half the penetration of Energex, in Queensland, and of the networks in South Australia and WA.

Powercor is planning ahead in other ways, too, trialling the role of grid battery storage in smoothing supply and deferring the need for costly infrastructure upgrades.

In July, it announced plans to install one of Australia’s largest battery storage systems on its regional grid in Buninyong, south of Ballarat.

The 2MWh lithium-ion battery – which is currently being built in South Korea by Kokam – will be housed in 40 foot shipping container and will be capable of providing approximately 3,000 customers with an hour of back-up power during an electricity outage.

According to Powercor’s head of strategy and business development, Charles Rattray, the trial – which should start in December 2015 and be fully operational by early 2016 – is part of the company’s effort to accommodate for an increasing amount of distributed renewables, and to encourage the energy choices of its residential and commercial customers.

“We see our network as the backbone of the future energy system,” Rattray told RE in an interview in July. “Not everyone can add solar to their roof. We see our role…as to share those (renewable) resources across the grid …which is what a network does so well.”

It’s also about sharing the referred costs of this distributed energy, too. Back at the All-Energy Australia conference on Wednesday, UTS project director Jay Rutovitz warns of “a potential situation where there is an increase in costs for those who are left (on the grid), who are not self-generators.”

Olsen refers to this a cost “smear”, and says one of the network’s major tasks at the moment is to work out, how do we make it fair “for all of our customers”?

“In the long-term, there should be a saving for all customers. A right-sized network… should result in lower prices for consumers,” she said.

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9 Comments
  1. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    They do have challenge. On one hand, they cry at the surplus of PV connected to the grid – so they try to make justifiable their desire to ‘close the shop’, that is, only make the grid available for ‘their’ energy.The grid is a public asset, technology exists which avoids energy congestion by switching down centralised energy. Of course we aren’t being told about these, because if anything those technologies benefit small generators.Storage is getting cheaper – they understand perfectly how this approach of closing the shop drives deployment of storage. Clearly, closing the shop will force generators to make up their own load … hot water, EVs, batteries, etc.Then they proceed to cut off their nose despite their face by crying about the loss of a fixed return to network operators, because of a loss of energy consumers who would have spent 40% of their tariff holding up the investment return of the grid. They should really give all of this a bit more thought, shouldn’t they ?

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      They ‘cry’ about whatever hurts them, until they get their act together. However, once they do, it will help them, not the customer.

  2. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    Not everyone can install solar on their roof … this is loaded with assumption. As middle income families, we rented in suburbs where we couldn’t afford to buy, but bought in a suburb where we could, due to a current situation with jobs. It doesn’t follow that centralised generators have large groups of permanently captive residents consuming from a grid. A landlord can install PV, so can a body corporate.Because PV is such good value, perhaps the best market this lot could hope for is dwellings and factories that plan on consuming more energy than they can fit on the roof or unused outdoor area. Considering appliances have increasing demands for efficiency, and new PV puts out more energy year on year, what is the outlook for consuming from a grid ? The outlook appears not as good in ten years time as now. They should be careful with their plan. These are the spoils of grid avarice, and their keeping of the grid for their exclusive use.

  3. Ian 4 years ago

    These people need to pay attention to the lyrics of their daughters’ cartoon movies. “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway” (” Let it go”. From the movie Frozen). Do they really think that people will stop installing solar? They will just not bother exporting it. What’s 5c/KWH anyway?

    The future energy system is this: distributed generation and storage, centralised generation and storage, electrical transportation, grid connected, and grid disconnected homes, businesses and communities. Electricity transportation will be by wire and by batteries on the move. (EV for short). People will work around any obstacle that is put in their way. Refuse to connect people’s solar to the grid, they’ll install batteries or adjust their load to take advantage of the sun. Punish apartment dwellers with high fixed tariffs, they’ll share meter boxes, force companies to pay network to the gate fees, they’ll relocate to the bush. Draconianism is good for Russia and Saudi Arabia but not very good for us here in Australia.

    • Sim 4 years ago

      There is something wonderfully rebellious here in Australia. Makes you wonder why we let ourselves get forced to vote.

  4. Ian 4 years ago

    Going gridless in the city is the challenge set before us in this article. How can one live in a unit in the inner suburbs and disconnect from the grid ? Here’s one way: eat out, shower at the gym, recharge phones,laptops and lights at work. 2. Share a connection with neighbours. 3. Use gas for cooking, water heating and for fuel cells 4. Plug the Prius, tesla or leaf into your home circuit, recharge that at work or at the supermarket. Helpless inner city dwellers – Seriously! Technology is speeding along, a grid connection is nice and convenient but is it indispensable? Thinking about it going grid less may be a good theme for a reality show.

    • Jacob 4 years ago

      No you just need weekly deliveries of batteries. That is the beauty of flow batteries.

      You can just swap the charged liquid for “flat” liquid.

    • Sim 4 years ago

      Yes, that would work, except for the refrigerator. Needs power when the Tesla car is away. Still I guess you could balance between the fridge and freezer. A little inconvenient but possible. Or just go gas fridge but they can cost a bit to run and are expensive up front.
      The fixed costs of utility power may make that worthwhile.

  5. Le Clair 4 years ago

    I wonder how the fact that the National Electricity Rules (aka the Law) state that consumers have a right to connect embedded generators will be addressed. The option to say ‘no’ is as illegal as robbing someones home.

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