Household solar, batteries and smart inverters can improve the stability and quality of power supplied by the electricity grid, early results from a pioneering trial in regional homes across NSW and Victoria suggest.
The Networks Renewed study – led by the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) and funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) – shows that, if managed well, solar and batteries can not only improve power quality but also provide support to vulnerable parts of the grid. Such support will reduce the need for costly network infrastructure upgrades and provide a financial benefit for homeowners.
In a small pilot trial conducted last year in the regional NSW town of Collombatti, Essential Energy used Reposit Power’s software platform to bid for voltage support from participating customers with solar PV and battery storage systems.
Local voltage was improved by 1.73 per cent and customers were credited for that support, helping to reduce their bills and pay off their home energy systems.
The research team has now recruited nearly one-fifth of Collombatti households in a larger market-scale demonstration to try to boost voltage support by 5.5 per cent. If achieved, that would fully address the emerging constraint in that locality during times of peak load.
Safe and efficient operation of electricity networks depends on maintaining voltage within fixed limits. Unmanaged solar generation during the day tends to raise network voltage, while peak electricity demand in the evening tends to lower network voltage.
By tapping into smart inverter technologies – the devices that connect solar and batteries to the electricity network – the trial is able to better understand how a ‘smart grid’ operates in practice, says ISF Research Director Geoff James.
“Supplying safe, reliable power to our homes is a complex task. Smart inverters have the capability to better control solar PV generation and batteries, potentially offering a suite of new business opportunities, especially voltage-correcting services to the electricity grid that reduce variability and increase grid stability,” Dr James says.
“The results of this project can change the perception of solar PV from a problem technology into a cost-effective solution for helping manage electricity operations.
“We’re really excited to be partnering with forward-thinking distribution businesses and smart energy companies to get more solar energy into Australian distribution networks, increase network stability at the same time, and show how this makes commercial sense for networks and customers alike.”
The demonstration of mass distributed solar and batteries is being conducted in partnership with energy distributors AusNet Services in Victoria and Essential Energy in NSW, battery software start-up Reposit Power, solar technology provider Fronius Australia, the Australian PV Institute and the NSW and Victorian governments.
“The pilot stage results have proven the potential benefit that aggregated small-scale renewables and battery storage can provide to the distribution network and, more broadly, to the National Electricity Market,” Essential Energy Manager Network Strategy & Risk Adam Causley says.
“With the highest percentage uptake of small-scale renewables in NSW and the continued growth of large-scale renewables across our network, Essential Energy is at the forefront of the rapidly changing market.
“Essential Energy’s proactive approach to projects like Networks Renewed will ensure it is operating efficiently and at best practice, offering value to customers while maintaining downward pressure on network charges,” Mr Causley says.
A second market-scale demonstration in Victoria with AusNet Services is being launched in the regional town of Yackandandah, building on the strong customer interest generated by community group Totally Renewable Yackandandah. Local business Mondo Power will install solar and batteries with smart inverters, while customers receive battery and control rebates from AusNet Services to enable utility controls. The trial has already reached out to 14 per cent of the feeder population.
A second market-scale demonstration in Victoria with AusNet Services is also being launched in the regional town of Yackandandah, building on the strong customer interest generated by community group Totally Renewable Yackandandah and Mondo Power.
Each home in the demonstration has a solar and battery system installed along with an Ubi – the smart energy monitoring and management system provided by Mondo Power.
AusNet Services and Mondo Power recently demonstrated in a test environment how remotely controlling the reactive power capability of the Fronius solar inverters can improve supply voltages.
The Yackandandah demonstration provides an incentive for participants to provide this type of solar control as well as battery control for testing in an area of network need. So far 14 customers have signed up to take part.
“Managing the uptake of Distributed Energy Resources such as solar power and battery storage is a priority for AusNet Services as we look to facilitate our customers’ choices around their energy supplies”, Network Innovation Manager John Theunissen says.
“The Networks Renewed project provides a great testing ground to take some future-looking ideas around network optimisation and test their real-world value in partnership with our customers.”