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Tasmania tapped for second trial of wind farm’s ability to stabilise grid

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ARENA has named the majority hydro-powered state of Tasmania as the location for a second government-backed trial to explore the ability of wind farms to provide crucial grid stabilising services.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency said on Thursday it would provide $499,120 in grant funding towards a $1 million trial based at Woolworth’s 168MW Musselroe wind farm, to test the technical and commercial potential for wind to provide Frequency Control Ancillary Services (FCAS) on the NEM.

The new trial in Tasmania follows up on last year’s joint effort by ARENA and the Australian Energy Market Operator to deliver the nation’s first FCAS trial at Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm in South Australia.

That trial, which began in December and finished live testing last month, has so far shown that using wind farms to deliver FCAS is largely technically feasible, although official results are yet to be released.

Those results – due within months – will be keenly anticipated by all energy market players in Australia, where the delivery of FCAS has traditionally been the preserve of the nation’s “baseload” coal and gas-fired power plants.

And, as we have noted in the past, the myth that only “synchronous” fossil fuel generators can provide this so-called “inertia” to the grid is still being used to justify calls for new coal and gas power capacity to be built in Australia as more variable renewable energy is brought online.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the Tasmania trial would address a key question that so far hasn’t been answered; does it make economic and commercial sense for a wind farm to provide ancillary services and participate in the FCAS markets?

Located in the state’s north east, the Musselroe wind farm – one of three owned by Woolnorth Wind Farm Holding, a joint venture owned by Hydro Tasmania and Shenhua Group – produces around 5 per cent of Tasmania’s electrical energy needs annually.

The bulk of the rest of the state’s power comes from its substantial hydro resources, which often see it reach 100 per cent renewables.

ARENA said the Tasmania study would also examine options to store surplus wind energy when constraints on the network prevented it from being used.

“It is hoped this will see many more wind farms beginning to help provide FCAS which batteries and solar farms may also be able to deliver,” Frischknecht said.

General Manager of Woolnorth Wind Farm Holding, Stephen Ross, said the project aimed to identify the true capability of wind power to provide system support, how that might work and what benefit there would be in terms of reliability and security at local and system level.

“So we’re looking at, how can the wind farms provide frequency support services into the broader network,” Ross said in a video interview.

“For everyday consumers, you have a frequency on your electricity supply, and that gets maintained within certain limits. And there’s a lot of work that happens in the background, on the network, to make sure that happens.

At the moment, wind farms don’t provide any frequency support into the network more broadly, and as we get higher penetration of renewable energy into the network, it’s a technical problem that the network needs to solve. So this is a really important part of determining that solution.”

Ross said it would consider a range of options to find the best fit for wind, which could include “chemical” batteries or pumped hydro energy storage.

“This is an opportunity to prove that wind farms can contribute to the stability and reliability of the electricity network,” he said.

“If it proves to be a viable addition for Musselroe, FCAS will also improve the efficiency, commerciality and market importance of our wind farm, and pave the way for others to use this technology,” he said.

For Tasmania, the trial comes as the state heads into another term of Liberal Party leadership, after the Hodgman government was re-elected over the weekend.

Interestingly, a key part of the Tasmanian Liberal Party’s re-election campaign was a promise to opt the state out of the NEM, to protect it from market fluctuations caused by power stations closures or system failures on the mainland.

“With Tasmania charging toward 100 per cent energy self-sufficiency … now is the time to take back our competitive advantage and break away from inflated mainland prices, and to drive down the cost of living of Tasmanians,” Hodgman said in February.

As we noted at the time, however, this would not stop the state from exporting and importing power over its sub-sea Basslink cable – and so would most likely have little bearing on wind farms’ future ability to provide FCAS to the mainland, too.

Indeed, according to a presentation at the Clean Energy Council’s Wind Industry Forum 2018 in Melbourne yesterday, Tasmania is already doing its bit to keep the mainland grid stable.

Bruce Miller, a principal energy systems advisor at Advisian, told the conference that data showed that Tasmania was actually already providing a little bit of frequency control to the mainland, which was “just the opposite to what was intended”.

Miller also said that the his data had found that frequency control of Tasmania, when it was not connected to the mainland, was actually better than the mainland.  

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  • Steve

    “ARENA said the Tasmania study would also examine options to store surplus wind energy when constraints on the network prevented it from being used.”

    This could be a naive question but wouldn’t the best way for Tassie to store wind power be to turn down some of the hydro generation? So long as the dams aren’t full it would make more sense to just not let water flow downhill in one dam, rather than pump water uphill someplace else.

    • caffdan

      I have always thought that should be the case. When Basslink went down and the state was gripped by drought and the dam levels were dangerously low, what Tasmania needed then was more wind power. More wind in the system would mean less water released from the dams and so keeping the storages topped up like a giant battery. Hydro power would be conserved for the times when there was genuinely not enough wind and as peak demand to supply the mainland. There would not be a pressing need for pumped hydro, meaning that power prices would be lower sooner. More wind power for Tassie makes a lot of sense and could lead to a second undersea cable, where Tasmania really does become the battery for south eastern Australia

  • MaxG

    What is there to trial? Hornsdale has already proven the point. Is Tassie different? Maybe the wind turns turbines the other way around there?

    • manicdee

      The trial involves more than just the turbines, there’s engineering and legal work that has to be done to enable this kind of operation.

      • Alastair Leith

        and the commercial realities which will always be case specific. But it’s all the go in Texas and has been for years.

  • Ian

    Very confusing, or is it confused article. Why would Tasmania of all places have a FCAS problem, most of their power comes from hydro, and this can be turned down or up at a whim? Secondly, how can you store wind energy without batteries or hydro? Are they going to make the wind turbines face each other and blow wind back and forth until the energy is needed, like a type of air ping pong?

    • manicdee

      Wind turbines store kinetic energy in the spinning turbines. The FCAS support that is provided by wind turbines is extracting that kinetic energy, which in the sole previous trial was shown to be capable of servicing a ~5 second FCAS market.

      By replicating the previous trial the intent is to show that the first trial wasn’t a case of smoke and mirrors.

      The people managing the industry are so thoroughly entrenched in dinosaur-burning steam-engine technology that they have trouble believing that any of this new technology is capable of providing the services the manufacturers claim they can.

      • Alastair Leith

        Are they actually fitting new turbine technology (controllers for example) or is this all new plant on the ground?

        • manicdee

          I think it’s just upgrades to the controllers / inverters.

        • Liam

          If they use wound-rotor induction machines it might be as simple as modifying the operating parameters of existing control software. These wind turbines normally operate super-synchronous, so the kinetic energy of the turbine assembly can be extracted to provide short-term overload capacity. The situation is quite similar to a thermal plant opening up the steam valve and depleting boiler pressure (which is how ~5 sec FCAS is provided in e.g. a coal plant).

      • Ian Porter

        The contribution of kinetic (rotary momentum) energy contained within the blade, rotor, gearbox and generator is indeed core to the 6 second FCAS market, but it is only part of the equation being the first line of defence in RoCof/primary frequency control. The returning of frequency to baseline 50Hz is in the secondary FCAS response category and wind plants can provide this due to the fact that they can operate feathered (or even tilted), such that at selected times, they have reserve capability to respond in the 1-5minute market through active power control, Automatic Generation Control (AGC) and with manual dispatch commands as is the practice in secondary frequency control. A promising future development is inertia emulation control, currently under research and no doubt weather forecast inputs will play a big role in the FCAS markets of the future

    • Liam

      Hydro responds very well at the ‘5 minute’ and ‘1 minute’ scales, but not as well at the 6-second mark. If Tasmania wants to increase their supply from wind, having confidence in its ability to provide active power FCAS support means they can meet RoCoF requirements from a smaller minimum hydro output (essentially, they can “turn down” the hydro generation further, without the risk of ‘tripping’ on a sudden load changes).

  • John Saint-Smith

    I’d just like to point our that your favourite grocery retailer, well known for their investments in booze and gambling, hasn’t stumbled into renewable energy developments.
    I think the name is Woolnorth, a large sheep and cattle grazing enterprise in North West Tasmania, not Woolworth’s.

  • Ben Dixon

    Woolnorth not bloody Woolworths

    • Alastair Leith

      I was wondering how an investor in Pokies would also diversify to renewables!

    • Ren Stimpy

      Woolnorths – The Fresh Wind People?