Rooftop solar on every Australian household “no issue at all” for grid

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Leading solar researcher says argument that certain parts of Australian grid can handle limited amounts of rooftop solar is “BS”.

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Australia could install solar PV on every suitable residential rooftop in the country without causing any problems for the running of the national grid, according to the chief scientist of global PV major Trina Solar.

Pierre Verlinden – a Belgian-born Australian who, through his research work at the China-based Trina has collaborated with the UNSW and ANU – told RenewEconomy he was “totally convinced” that Australia could shift to 100 per cent renewable electricity, through a combination of distributed and large-scale solar PV and wind energy.

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Verlinden – who has seen the global solar market grow 60,000-fold over the 17 years he’s been working in the industry – said that, at the very least, he hoped Australia would introduce legislation like that recently adopted by San Francisco, where all new-build houses are now required to have a PV system installed.

“I hope the (rooftop solar) market in Australia will continue growing,” Verlinden told RenewEconomy in an interview  from his base in China.

“The advantage of PV is it is the most distributed source of energy, and we need to take advantage of that. We need to put PV on every roof. That would easily support up to 25 per cent of household demand, and with battery storage, up to 100 per cent.

“I think you have the political will, but you have too much lobbying coming in the other direction,” he said, referring to Australia’s coal power industry, which has and continues to dominate the nation’s generation mix.

One of the main arguments used by incumbent network operators and power generators against a higher penetration of rooftop solar in Australia is that it will be too much for the current grid, which was designed around the concept of centralised fossil fuel generation.

Paris 2013, 28th EU PVSEC
Pierre Verlinden at the Paris 2013, 28th EU PVSEC

Most recently we have seen this myth trotted out in Alice Springs, where the local utility – and the NT government – have claimed that the local network can not support any increase in solar PV.

“Then comes the sun, or the wind starts to blow, and suddenly the cables are overloaded, they heat up, melt, collide and fail. Brownouts or blackouts are the result,” said Northern Territory treasurer Dave Tollner, in the local paper.

Of course, as we have noted here and various studies have shown, this is simply not accurate.

“What we say in China,” Verlinden told RE, “is that this is BS – but we say it politely in Chinese.

“It’s not true. You could demonstrate it clearly that there is absolutely no problem to go 25 per cent PV, 25 per cent wind and there is no issue, absolutely no issue at all.

“South Australia wants to go to 100 per cent, and they will do it,” he added.

“Solar PV is the most distributed source of energy, so why would you need to update your transmission line? It doesn’t make sense.”

On the other hand, Verlinden added, “If you put in a 1.2GW coal power plant in a place that is far away from where most of its power needs to be delivered, that’s when you need to build new infrastructure.

“I think the utilities are using that as an excuse to get money from the government.

“But the utilities also want PV. They’re not stupid. It’s cheaper than almost any other source of energy. But they also want to control it.

“They want to convince the government that you need the utilities need to control it.”

Of course, Verlinden added, “as the producer of PV panels, we don’t care who installs it.

However it plays out, “there has been a change to the business model, a change to the energy economy,” he said.

“PV is the people’s choice of energy. It’s a train that nobody can stop.”

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9 Comments
  1. Brunel 3 years ago

    Some rooves are shaded by trees, so it would be wrong to force every house to have solar panels.

    Nor should we cut down every tree in every front yard.

    EV to grid is a solution for such houses.

    An EV with a big 90kWh battery could power the house for a few days.

    • John Saint-Smith 3 years ago

      The Californian legislation applies to new buildings, not existing domestic houses in leafy suburbs. We don’t need to be obsessive about it, but we should also make it possible for people living in high rise apartments and leafy suburbs to invest in local solar farms located on wasted urban roof space on shopping malls, car parks, factories, schools, even dams. We would be able to produce more than enough ‘grid’ electricity, combined with wind, biomass and storage, to supply 100% of our needs.
      If all Australians were encouraged to invest their own money in distributed power cooperatives, most people would jump at the chance.
      We could overcome the coal gnomes greatest fear – ‘Oh but solar costs so much, we would have to destroy the economy in order to save the planet.’

      • Brunel 3 years ago

        It is not a fear but a lie (the line about solar being costly).

        New suburbs are devoid of trees as it is. Mandating solar panels will be even more of a reason to not have any trees in new suburbs.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      As long as you don’t need the car every day to go to work!

      • Brunel 3 years ago

        Most people do not commute that far on a daily basis.

        • solarguy 3 years ago

          That’s addressing the issue is it.

  2. Garth Luke 3 years ago

    Interesting article however I don’t think the global solar market has grown 60,000 times in the last 17 years – that would require 91% average annual growth.

  3. Cooma Doug 3 years ago

    When you are with a group of like minded people, have a white board chat.
    Declare that you are building a town of 2000 homes. Discuss how you will provide the electricity. This is a town in Australia 100 km from the nearest energy grid.
    Deal with the issues and determine the costs involved in making choices.

    If you do this you will notice really early that coal has no place. Gas has no place.

    There will be people in most groups who will be surprised when they realise how the big base load system is a really bad idea in todays technology.

    As you go through each issue the technology solutions that emerge and the myths that stand out so dumb will form a contrast so strong.

    Most likely there will be some strongly rooted denial in some heads that may trigger a walk out. But this is a very enlightening exercise. I am often stunned how many people who are very significant in the energy industry, can be stunned by this exercise. The denial kicks in at various times with people not seeing the forrest because of all the trees.

  4. Phil 3 years ago

    Depends on the state of the network

    I recently measured in the Brisbane Metro area (Qld Australia) voltages as high as 267 volts AC ( rms) on partly cloudy days. It was obvious the grid could not regulate the solar contribution as when a cloud cut the light down the volts went down to 247 – 254.

    I was also surprised by the amount of harmonic distortion on sunny days too. Yet at night it was all gone. It appears the inverter distortion is cumulative across the local network , i.e all the small distortions from each inverter add up to quite a big distortion

    Considering Australia standardised on 230 volts AC rms + / – 10% / 5% 267 volts is 5% beyond the allowable limits

    The negative of this was i had many appliances failing prematurely. And since i have gone 100% off grid this problem has been resolved.

    So if the Grid is well regulated i’m sure 100% solar would be fine.
    But if it’s not the consumer pays with appliance damage due overvolts , voltage surges and harmonic distortion of what used to be and should be a clean mostly distortion free 50 hertz sine wave power supply.

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