“Time to take control” of rooftop solar, industry says

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New report from ENA and AEMO to look at orchestration of rooftop solar and battery storage, as NSW promises more trials to use distributed energy to lower costs.

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Big changes may be afoot for the household rooftop solar and battery storage sector, and the days of an uncontrolled “free for all” may be about to end – at least for those connected to the grid.

Regulators, market operators, network owners, and even new technology providers are urging a change in the way that distributed energy such as rooftop solar and battery storage is managed.

It has dawned on authorities that within a few decades, according to their own predictions, distributed energy may account for nearly half of all generation delivered into Australia’s sprawling electricity grid.

That should not be a problem per se, but only if it is not properly managed, delegates at the annual Energy Networks Australia conference in Sydney were told on Wednesday.

Much of the focus has been on the issue of tariffs, and “social equity” around solar, but the real problem is about harnessing the resources and using them for the grid benefit, both as a provider of energy and network services.

“The real issue is we that don’t have control over our rooftop solar resources,” says Phil Blythe, the head of software specialist Greensync, pointing to the 1.7 million household systems already in the market, a number that will grow to 2.5 million systems within a few years.

“At that point we will have lost control over a significant portion of the generation fleet,” he says, unless a system of smart controls, new policies and structures are put in place.

One vision of how that may look will be released over the next few days – a joint study by Energy Networks Australia and the Australian Energy Market Operator about the appropriate platform to manage the growth in distributed energy.

Right now, most of it is installed behind the meter, consumption is not visible to networks or operators, and the usage can only be guessed at. And it cannot be martialled into a dependable resource.

Companies like Greensync, Reposit, Tesla, and sonnen have ideas of how that can be done – through the creation of virtual power plants and other “aggregated source” that links and connects these resources.

The question is how to do that in a coherent way. According to AEMO’s Violette Mouchaileh, its manager of “market enhancement”, that could take three different forms – a centralised system with AEMO, a hybrid system in partnership with networks, or via a third party.

Mouchaileh referred to the so-called “duck curve”, which is appearing in states such as South Australia and Queensland, and is pushing grid demand to deeper and deeper lows in the middle of the day?

“We seeing more variability in the system. It affects how we manage (the grid) in real time,” she said..

Mouchaileh pointed to the need for data visibility, a robust network regime and market frameworks, access for aggregators and improved forecasting.

One of the issues will be about access and tariff structures, although tariffs is not believed to be a subject of this initial study by ENA and AEMO, which follows ENAs work with the CSIRO on the Future Grid and the importance of distributed generation.

Andrew Dillon, the head of ENA, noted that one third of homes in Queensland and South Australia had rooftop solar, 25 per cent in Western Australia and 17 per cent in NSW (and growing fast).

This compared to just 20 per cent in Hawaii and Caifornia, often seen as the global leaders in the uptake of rooftop solar.

Dillon says networks have done a remarkable job ascting as a “sponge” to rooftop solar, soaking up excess generation, and facilitating two way flows. The new study would seek to find ways to co-ordinate future growth and harnessing that resource.

NSW is also proposing trials on distributed generation, and its ability to reduce network congestion and defer upgrades of poles and wires and sub-stations.

Energy minister Don Harwin said the government see opportunities for rooftop solar and battery storage and wanted to remove regulatory blockages to these new technologies and new business models.

Harwin pointed to the technology changes – rooftop solar, battery storage and elecric vehicles – that were being driven by consumers.

“Governments should not be resistant to the shifts in technology that give consumers greater autonomy,” he said, adding that consumers want more choice and as a politician with a Liberal outlook “I welcome this.”

He said the government wanted to remove regulatory blockages to these new technologies and new business models and the trials would focus on understanding the changes in networks.

“The NSW trials will make a significant contribution to future of distributed networks. We want to be able to reduce network bills by 400 a year by using smater technologies.

“We do want to do things differently. We want to own the future.”

Blythe, however, said that action needed to be taken soon, or the scale of the investment would get out of control. “We have a very short timeframe to get those policies and structures in place.”

 

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36 Comments
  1. Joe 4 months ago

    …’take control’….’unrestrained free for all’. I see these expressions and I think to myself that if we had a Government that was genuinely interested in RE ( instead of ‘all in’ with FF ), that acted as a Leader in the energy changeover and so planned accordingly ( instead of following households who have been the Leaders ), then perhaps there wouldn’t be this reaction of the Energy Masters in how now to manage the whole system. Government failure of vision, a failure to get involved at the grassroots and now the belated catching up as new events keep racing away….only with the dumbass COALition do things go like this.

    • Rod 4 months ago

      If Elon’s prediction of powerwalls for $100 kWh in 2019 comes true, it will be homeowners who take control.
      Hence the panic from the ahem “Liberal” NSW Government.

      • Mike Westerman 4 months ago

        Note Rod that the $100/kWh is US$ and only for the battery pack ie excluding charger, inverter and switchgear, that results in a 2-3x mark up from battery pack to Powerwall 2 now. So that fall in battery pack cost is not likely to translate to a halving of Powerwall cost, even tho halving or more is needed to make most households make the move to batteries.

        • Rod 4 months ago

          Thanks, yes the article didn’t stipulate $US but you would be correct.
          I also assumed the mention of the cooling system meant the entire system.

          “Improvements in 2019 will result in the entire battery pack (including
          its cooling system) dropping below $100 per kWh. This will be supported
          by improvements to the anode and cathode, resulting in better energy
          density and cost.”

      • Joe 4 months ago

        ….$100kWh, wow…..the stampede into home battery mode will be unstoppable and those thinking about going off grid might just say now is the time.

      • GlennM 4 months ago

        Unfortunately…if you want to buy a home battery today it is about $1000 /kWh so a long way to go before $100…

        • Rod 4 months ago

          14kWh PW2 about $8000? plus install so not quite $1000/kWh but yes still a long way to go.

          • PLDD 4 months ago

            Rod – but the “plus install” adds a fair bit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see $4,000 so not far off $1,000/KWh

          • Rod 4 months ago

            Here’s hoping by 2019 installation costs come down via competition and learning by doing. One of the advantages of the PW2 was meant to be ease of installation.
            As an aside, saw this yesterday. 35% discount I know but I think they will get some interest. Not me. I would lose my premium FiT.
            https://www.simplyenergy.com.au/energy-solutions/battery-storage/smart-storage/

    • MaxG 3 months ago

      The government is, has been in bed with the corporations for decades; tell me about one case where the government actually did something in the interest of the people!

      • Joe 3 months ago

        Hello Max. You won’t find me defending this Government. And I just heard on ‘Our ABC’ that Turnbull & Pyne’s submarine project, that $50 Billions job they announced a while ago, has been….blown out of the water. Barely any manufacturing ( ie actually making stuff ) will be done here. We / Australia will be ‘partial’ assemblers and for that privilege the total cost of the project is going to…. ’emergency surface’ way past the $50 Billions. The Aussie taxpayer being taken for a dare I say it….’Deep Dive’.

        • solarguy 3 months ago

          Carriers would have been a bigger military stick for the bucks, we could purchase off the shelf subs from the Japs to complement.

  2. juxx0r 4 months ago

    All they gotta do is keep putting power prices up and the owner-generators will remove themselves from the network thus solving the problem.

    • PLDD 4 months ago

      Going off grid strikes me as an interesting financial model for most consumers.

      Connecting to the grid costs me about $400 a year, it allows me to sell excess power and obviously supplies power when my PV is not generating.

      I could install a battery and looking at my useage data*, one 14KWh battery would cover me for 90% of the time….but with a very very long payback.

      Another battery for that 10% gap strikes me as overkill investment when I can get coverage for $400 a year which I offset via a FIT.

      * A high demand winter day will see me use up to 30KWh (with a heat pump driving the heating). These are cloudy, cold days so I generate as little as 5KWh from a 8.4KW system. A normal winter day has useage at an average day sees production of 18KWh and consumption around 20KWh.

      • solarguy 3 months ago

        Is your PV oversized to the inverter? You should on an average fairly cloudless winters day produce up to 33.6kwh, at least 25kwh.

        My Hybrid 9.3kw system is oversized on the north array(6.3kw) in relation to the 4.8kw MPPT Charger and yesterday produced 20.3kwh for a mainly sunny day with arvo cloud/sun.

        FIT pays me $840 roughly/year and that is after SAC charges are paid. I’ve done some rough calcs that suggests my battery will paid for in another 7yrs because I’m using my stored energy at night offsetting power from the grid. Add your offset with a battery, you might get a pleasant suprise.

        • PLDD 3 months ago

          My inverter is sized correctly for the panels and in summer it will generate 50KWh a day.

          In June we are down to 18 max, and I understand why. I have large trees to east and west of the house that shade the system in the winter with generation starting at 8 and over by 3. In the summer it’s not really an issue as the sun clears the trees quickly and I generate from just after 6 to just before 8.

          I also have my panels pretty flat for aesthetic reasons and so I get good efficiency in the summer and pretty poor efficiency in winter. It was a conscious decision and factored into my cost model.

          I shared my example because I am probably a quite typical user. I like the savings and environmental benefit but the panels need to fit into the architecture of the house, the council gets a bit touchy about taking out healthy fully grown trees, and I like a warm house in winter (no AC in summer as the house is passively cooled with stack ventilation etc).

          I have a pretty good battery cost model to test the economics based on my day to day data (I used the Tesla specs). The first thing it shows is how depleted the battery gets in a period of low generation so grid power would still be needed – or lots of extra battery capacity – and so I still pay the standing charge. It also shows a few other spots when the battery charge doesn’t quite cover consumption.

          I have included in the model the lost FIT revenue from charging the battery plus the cost avoided by usIng battery power. Current fit is 11c and a unit is 26c so each unit used from the battery saves 15c.

          Now as the charges and FIT change in NSW it will be interesting to see how that positively affects battery economics where each unit used from a battery will be worth 18.5c.

          • solarguy 3 months ago

            Ah huh, mystery solved. Thanks for sharing and keep those flat mounted panels clean.

          • Greg Hudson 3 months ago

            My #1 priority if I was you (and I was recently) would be to search for and find, a cheaper supplier. My imports dropped from 29.9c to 18.6c (inc GST). It really is worth the search. And don’t bother with the ‘commercial’ comparison sites either, they don’t cover the whole market.

          • PLDD 3 months ago

            Yup – plan to do another check once the new rates for next year (1st July) NSW are out. It will be interesting to see how the FIT rates get implemented. IPART draft indicates 7.5c a big drop, yet the unit rates seem pretty static. Is your 18.6c rate in NSW or Vic – which is a lot cheaper than here.

            I do find the cheapest unit costs often sting you on the standing charge so I like to look at all the rates: FIT, unit and standing charge and then model them based on my actual data.

          • Greg Hudson 3 months ago

            I’m in Vic (postcode 3131 which makes a difference).
            I don’t care about the daily charges, as the plan is to offset them with solar exports. 18.6c/kWh was the best rate at the time I needed it (3 months ago) but there are 4 retailers who are cheaper than that now. Not by much, but if things change, I’ll switch retailers faster than Alinta can say ‘where did you go?) 😉

  3. MrMauricio 4 months ago

    ‘take control’….’unrestrained free for all…..’HERE COMES THE CAVALRY!!!.I call it consumer freedom,something the networks generators and government have abused and tried to prevent and cant abide.We have the highest electricity prices and network charges in the world from their “stewardship”/cash cow/ cartel.Consumers have responded ,looking to alternatives and are just a heartbeat away from deserting the grid with addition of extra panels and batteries.Inputs to the grid are clearly visible,measurable and quantfied-from all sources. The system has to become flexible and distributed-thats all!!!

  4. Ian 4 months ago

    Here’s some advice for the grid industry: When your livestock roam and disperse then they need to be controlled, fenced in, and herded, the weaker ones need to be culled, and desexed. You won’t be able to milk them profitably unless they are properly farmed. When you take them to the slaughter make sure they are calm and unaware of their fate then the meat will be tender and juicy!

    “We do want to do things differently. We want to own the future.” – NAF.

    • Robert Barnes 4 months ago

      Very beautifully said. We just have to make sure the herded masses do become aware of their fate so they can get active and make some changes first.

      • MaxG 3 months ago

        My case for decades: they won’t!

  5. GlennM 4 months ago

    No Thanks…
    Just spent thousands on my own power station…no way am I letting someone else control it. If that makes the network operators life difficult…then tough, call that payback for the last 30 years….

    They can have my “thoughts and prayers”…

    • solarguy 3 months ago

      With you Glenn, they can buy my excess gen, but not any storage.

  6. Mike Westerman 4 months ago

    It shouldn’t take Einstein to look back at the evolution of communications and realise that a “controlled” network of the complexity we are moving to is going to become increasingly unreliable and vulnerable to external shock! Ultimately a fault tolerant network is going to be needed, and that means I would think breaking from the constant frequency regulated voltage backbone model to each customer node having its own reliably built in, able to accept a wide range of frequency and voltage (like the switched power supplies on most electronic appliances). It probably means multiple asynch grids linked with DC ultimately, with networks being primarily in the business of balancing and back up.

    • solarguy 3 months ago

      Yep, that idea has merit. All it will take to stuff up the grid in any case is a hacker.

  7. Ray Miller 4 months ago

    Just for the record it was the current incumbents (now complaining) who forced the customer metering to be “net metering”. What a revelation that the true amount of solar generation is not know!
    I agree the language of “control” “unrestrained” sums up the main reason why the current end consumers do not want anything to do with current industry if they had a choice. That day of ultimate choice (being able to desert the grid) is coming sooner then later, if the next generation of battery technology is hitting a manufacturing cost of $100USD/kWh greatly informs the direction and speed of change.

    • Joe 4 months ago

      We did have Gross Metering before the current Net Metering and we had Net Metering before we went to Gross Metering. Now I hear it is the turn of Smart Meters to be installed, I can hardly wait, NOT. Imma all Metered Out at my place.

      • Greg Hudson 3 months ago

        Once you actually ‘get’ a smart meter, you will get neither Gross OR Net metering. You’ll get whatever the Govt says you get (usually a fixed, and pitiful FIT, which is in no way related to the actual ‘value’ of the power you are supplying). On the other hand…
        On 1st July 2018, the Victorian Govt is supposedly upping the ante from 11.3c to 29c per kWh (variable, depending on the time you export). Least valuable when the sun is shining, and most valuable when grid usage is highest in the evenings.

        • Joe 3 months ago

          Yes, I did hear about the FiT decision for Victoria. I live in Sydney and I am yet to hear what our new FiT is going to be. At the moment I get 12.5cents FiT but the talk from IPART was that the FiT was going down…maybe to 7.5cents…. which is a bit of an insult.

  8. Peter G 4 months ago

    What a pile of Bunk!! Uncontrolled and unconstrained domestic Aircon demand has been an unquestioned neo-liberal consumer ‘right’ that underpins NEM scarcity pricing. And the NEM market pricing has led to more or less uncontrolled and unrestrained gold plating price gouging and windfall profits for utilities.
    Extending the rational neo-liberal solution to the consumer level by introducing scarcity responsive pricing signals would flatten demand and be unprofitable, so the vested interests are bleating for some command and control protection.

  9. PLDD 4 months ago

    This also opens up the discussion on pricing FIT rebates. Currently IPART in NSW dismisses the impact on network investment and other value adds local generation brings despite Ausgrid stating it reduces the need to add grid capacity. Instead they just use the wholesale charge.

    Now if my supplier paid me a FIT premium for the ancillary services my PV system can supply to their network I might be interested in considering their offer….but if it’s at the rock bottom FIT with no recognition in my investment then no thanks.

  10. MaxG 3 months ago

    “and the days of an uncontrolled “free for all” may be about to end”, is exactly the point! We can’t have people generating stuff for free! There is no profit to be made. We can’t have that! It would be against the neoliberal ideal… and an affront to capitalism.

  11. Nick Kemp 3 months ago

    With batteries getting cheaper they might not be getting any feed in in a year or two unless they pony up for it

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