W.A. to lead way in transition to distributed, renewable and equitable grid | RenewEconomy

W.A. to lead way in transition to distributed, renewable and equitable grid

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W.A. switches from laggard to national leader as it plots out a path to embrace rooftop solar, batteries and EVs so that distributed energy can help displace big fossil fuel plants.

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The West Australia government says it wants to lead the country in the transformation of its electricity grid following the release this week of its Distributed Energy Roadmap, the first of three key documents that will map out a pathway to a zero emissions grid and the end of fossil fuel generation.

WA energy minister Bill Johnston and the head of his Energy Transformation Taskforce Steve Edwell held an online briefing on Thursday that highlighted the importance of embracing distributed energy – rooftop solar, battery storage, electric vehicles and demand response – as it looks to customer assets to largely replace centralised thermal generation.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for W.A., which became a laggard on renewables under the previous Coalition government, and is now looking to be a national, and a world leader, as it seeks to deal with a boom in rooftop solar, which now accounts for more than 1GW of capacity in a grid that recently recorded a record minimum demand of just 1.1GW.

“We have a challenge that no one else does,” Johnston told the briefing. “We have a high take up of distributed energy resources and an islanded grid. We can’t rely on other states to support our activity.”

The DER Roadmap, launched last weekend to much acclaim, is the first of three key works by the energy transition team, with the others to be a Whole of System Plan (WOSP, due in October, which will be similar to the Integrated System Plan on the main grid) and a complete market redesign which it wants in place by late 2022, three years ahead of the National Electricity Market.

“This is an important piece of work,” Johnston said. “We all know that West Australia is at the very forefront of having to confront the challenge (of integrating DER). The whole concept of the DER Roadmap is that it works at scale, not just at initial steps. It functions when everyone has an electric vehicle, everyone has solar, and battery storage. It’s not about interim steps, it’s about the end goal.”

The DER Roadmap makes 36 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the state government. These include some urgent actions to ensure grid security, including the roll-out of 10 community scale batteries in and around Perth, and a change to solar inverter standards that will improve their ride-through capabilities, communications settings, and their ability to be “orchestrated”, such as in virtual power plants.

The response of the WA government is encouraging, and perhaps wouldn’t have been possible in the eastern states where the market and policy-makers are buried under layers of regulatory burden, and where progress has been impeded by the likes of the Australian Energy Market Commission.

Johnston said the state had three choices to deal with the growth of rooftop solar PV and its implications for the grid: “We could limit solar PV or other DER, we could make a massive increase in network investment; or we could find a better way forward and use DER to support the grid to make it more available for everyone.”

They have chosen the latter, and worked with the state-owned grid owner Western Power and AEMO to map a path forward.

Edwell said it was critical to “de-risk” the state’s power system – known as the South-West Interconnected System (SWIS) – by 2022.

“We can’t have a power system where that risk is as confronting as it appears to be,” Edwell said. “The actions we have prioritised are to remove the clear and present challenge – inverter standards, battery installations, they probably the most important short term ones.

“Ultimately what we really want to do is to have a market that is capable of integrating all forms of DER – once you solve the physics, it becomes an economic issue.

“I am very keen on the concept of value … how to value the services provided by DER and how the customer an extract that value. That goes to efficient of use of power systems and appliances and bringing to market all the benefits you can identify … and to bring all of these resources at household level to market in an efficient way to replace thermal carbon generated power. That is the big play here.”

This will include providing incentives for landlords in the rental market, initiatives to include loads such as pool pumps and air conditioning in upcoming “orchestration trials”, and possibly schemes that can help low-income households get access to technologies such as home batteries.

Edwell point to the growing “solar duck” curve, and the increased variability of load. Earlier this year, within the space of a single month, the SWIS experienced its lowest ever demand and then its second highest system peak.

“We’ve got a lower belly of the duck, and a bigger ramp up,” he said. “We have variability issues, we have network issues, and we have equity issues.”

Edwell said the roadmap identifies four key actions – technology integration, tariff changes and investment signals, DER participation in the main grid, and customer engagement.

One of the proposals, a trial to test tariff changes, will have to be delayed because of the impact of Covid-19 and the difficulty in engaging with households and recruiting customers.

But Johnston said initiatives such as the upcoming “orchestration trial” was an example of something that could be done to support investment and economic recovery. “Rolling out more distribution level batteries would help,” he said, although he ruled out any subsidies or grants – as has been done in other states – although it was looking at a scheme that could make them available for low income households.

Johnston also noted that West Australia was the only place in the world that produces all the materials for the battery, although it would be difficult to create a battery manufacturing centre.

“We have an advantage in chemical materials and the application of a battery, but there is a long way between materials and a battery coming out of a factory.

“We have natural advantage in (the need for) stand alone power systems, and the start of a value chain. There might be some opportunities for specialist batteries in W.A., but you must have a serious player to build a battery factory because they are very expensive.”

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