Networks face up to rooftop solar boom, with new ARENA-funded trial

Australia’s booming rooftop solar uptake, and how to accommodate it on Australia’s rapidly out-dated and still coal-dominated grid, is the focus of a new pilot project led by network companies AusNet Services and Jemena and funded by ARENA.
The $2.2 million Victoria-based project, to which the University of New South Wales is also contributing, will trial innovative technology designed to manage the network impact of solar take-up, and to pave the way for more of the same.
AusNet Services’ Alistair Parker said that, if successful, the trial – called Creating Solar Friendly Neighbourhoods – could significantly enhance the ability of electricity networks to accommodate more rooftop solar power.
And that will be critically important, in light of current estimates that around 40 per cent of AusNet Services customers will have rooftop solar within 10 years – up from roughly 18 per cent today.
In Victoria alone, households have been cashing on the state government’s solar homes rebate by the thousands, with recent reports indicating nearly 7,000 new rooftop PV systems had been installed under the $1.2 billion scheme since it launched in late August 2018.
This massive shift to residential solar is great news for consumers and the solar industry, but has caught distribution companies on the hop, and forced them to introduce measures including export limiting, to reduce the effect of too much solar being sent to the network on strong solar production days.
But as Solar Analytics points out, this is a lose-lose, for both the owners of the rooftop solar system – who could be losing 30-40 per cent of their system’s output a day – and for the grid, which could be harnessing the cheap, excess solar to use for its own purposes.
“Our customers have told us they want to see collaborative industry research into enabling solar, and this trial brings together leading Australian and international players, government and academia,” said Parker, who is AusNet’s EGM of regulated energy services.
“This technology has the potential to overcome the existing limitations on the numbers of solar installations in some areas, and also allow customers to export more energy to the grid,” he said.
AusNet says its part of the two-year trial will roll-out two technologies and intelligent control systems that will increase the distributed energy resources hosting capacity of networks.
The two technologies will be tested at a substation in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Montrose, where AusNet says there is a reasonably high penetration of PV installations.
Jemena’s part of the trial will target 106 customers in Greenvale – part of the electricity distribution network which serves over 343,000 customers across Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Jemena’s Managing Director, Frank Tudor, said the trial was the first of its kind in Australia.
“We know customers are keen to install solar panels on their homes, but that they will continue to look to the existing electricity grid for power during times when the sun isn’t shining,” he said.
“This trial will use international technology to make a number of technical changes to existing infrastructure so that a greater number of people can install solar power on their homes, while maintaining the reliability of the electricity grid.
“We also know that for some of our customers their solar panels aren’t working as effectively as they could – with limits being placed on the amount of energy they can export back to the grid due to technical constraints. This trial will also address these issues.”
As we reported here, ARENA’s contribution to the Jemena and AusNet trial was granted alongside funding for 11 other projects and studies, focusing on the integration and optimisation of distributed energy resources on the NEM.

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