South Australia Power Networks has announced a crackdown on rooftop solar non-compliance in the state, with the introduction of a three-strike warning system for installers failing to meet requirements for new distributed energy systems.
SAPN says that from the end of next week (May 19) an automated compliance management system will monitor new installations and issue a series of warnings if an installer is found falling short of their obligations.
If the installer’s compliance rate remains under 90% for 21 days from the date of the first warning then their ability to apply for small embedded generation (SEG) approval will be restricted.
The strict new compliance standards follow a call earlier this month from the market operator, AEMO, for industry and regulatory groups to work together to achieve upwards of 90% compliance on inverter standards by the end of the year.
That call was spurred by the results of a random audit of inverters installed over the past 12 months in which AEMO found that only 28% of systems with visible settings could be confirmed to have the correct settings.
The AEMO audit was checking for compliance with the AS/NZS 4777.2 inverter requirements, which differs from the rules rushed through in South Australia in 2020 in that it does not require solar households to nominate an “agent” to switch off their solar if asked to by the market operator.
Rather, AS/NZS 4777.2 makes it mandatory for all new inverters connecting to the grid to have an undervoltage disturbance ride-through capability, to ensure household energy systems don’t ‘trip’ or disconnect when there are voltage disturbances on the network.
Essentially, as Alison Potter explains here, the mandated operational settings give behind the meter resources ranging from rooftop solar to electric vehicles the ability to respond to conditions on the grid that might otherwise cause blackouts, power instability or PV systems to trip and shut down.
And while the AEMO audit confirms that all new inverters tested in the audit process are technically capable of meeting the standards required, a worryingly small percentage of new inverters installed since December 2021 have been configured according to the mandated settings – a job that falls to installers.
AEMO says the poor compliance with the nearly 18 months-old rules points to deficiencies in governance frameworks for monitoring and enforcing the implementation of the mandated technical settings in the field.
South Australia, for one, has taken AEMO’s message to heart.
The state, which leads the world with the share of wind and solar on its grid, has also been leading Australia in its effort to gain better visibility and control over a rooftop solar resource that sometimes generates enough power to meet all local demand – sometimes for more than five hours.
To manage all this power coming from panels installed by homes and businesses, South Australia has introduced a number of strict installation standards for new PV systems, largely involving the capabilities and settings of solar inverters.
The first so-called “solar switch-off” rule – adopted in SA in late 2020 and then a year later in Western Australia – was devised in concert with AEMO to ensure rooftop solar systems can “ride through” system faults, be subject to changing export limits, and be remotely disconnected from the grid if needed.
To meet this goal, all rooftop solar systems installed in the state must choose from a list of government-approved, compliant inverters (see here) and system owners must have appointed a “relevant agent” (listed here) which is approved to remotely control these inverters, if need be.
This year SA is again getting ahead of the curve by strengthening its Smarter Homes Program with new technical requirements for flexible solar exports, which will be mandatory for all new installation from July 2023.
The Dynamic Export Limit (Flexible Exports) scheme will mean all new rooftop PV installations up to 30kW of capacity must have CSIP (IEEE 2030.5) communication capability built into the inverters.
The mandated technical capabilities mean that SA Power Networks will be able to adjust systems’ export limits remotely in accordance with the needs of the grid.
While most new popular inverter brands have these capabilities built in, the industry has had to scramble somewhat to get all the right testing and certifications to then get the necessary tick of compliance from the Clean Energy Council in time for the change in rules.
Global inverter company SolarEdge’s software was the first to be listed by the CEC as being able to meet the requirements for flexible exports, as One Step Off The Grid sister site RenewEconomy reported here.
To ensure compliance with the new rule at the installer level, SAPN says installers will need to register the site and pass the capability testing as part of the commissioning for Flexible Exports sites using SmartInstall.
The Capability test is a short test to confirm if the site is configured correctly for Flexible Exports and that the communications to site, and site level export limiting is correct.
Flexible Exports applications will be deemed non-compliant if SAPN receives notification that a flexible installation has occurred but the device has not been registered, or if the device has been registered, but a capability test has not been completed or has failed in SmartInstall.
Other focus areas for compliance include SmartInstall closeout, export limit conformance and Volt-VAr settings, SAPN says. Industry can read more about the SmartApply and SmartInstall portals here. And there is detailed information on SAPN’s DER compliance standards here.