W.A. opens up regional grid to 10MW more rooftop solar

Households across regional Western Australia are set to get greater access to cheap solar electricity, after government-owned utility Horizon Power cleared the way for 10MW of new small-scale renewables capacity to be connected to its microgrids.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Labor McGowan government said the changes meant customers across numerous towns in regional WA – including Karratha, Port Hedland, Broome, Kununurra, Derby, Carnarvon and Esperance – would now have access to rooftop solar for the first time.

“It is welcome news for regional customers, some of whom have been waiting for close to a decade to install rooftop solar panels,” said energy minister Bill Johnston.

“Rooftop solar and batteries play a key role in shaping the future of the state’s energy system.”

The relaxation of strict limits to rooftop solar installations on the state’s regional networks was announced by Horizon off the back of a review of hosting capacity restrictions and changes to technical requirements.

“The hosting capacity limit for each town reflects the level of renewable energy that can safely connect to the grid without compromising the reliability of supply to the entire network,” said Horizon Power CEO Stephanie Unwin in a statement on Wednesday.

“Our customers are wanting more sustainable, affordable energy options and this is just one of the ways in which we are meeting this demand.”

For their part, customers must comply with the updated technical requirements set out by Horizon, including the use of smart inverter technology to give new PV systems feed-in management and renewable energy smoothing capabilities.

These requirements are in line with those put forward in Energy Networks Australia’s National Connections Guidelines, which recommends all networks require new PV systems to use inverter technology that can limit solar exports, and is smart enough to sense conditions on the network.

Horizon says the changes are also part of the state government’s broader Energy Transformation Strategy – which, as we reported here, is being headed up by former Horizon chair, Stephen Edwell.

It’s a welcome sign that major utilities are starting to wrap their collective minds – and business models – around the rapidly changing shape of the Australian grid, led by a consumer push AEMO says will make rooftop solar the highest generation capacity technology in the NEM by 2040.

Indeed, this consumer-driven transformation is expected to be led by Western Australia, where the grid – the Australian Energy Market Operator has warned – faces serious system security risks if it doesn’t keep pace with the rapid uptake of rooftop solar.

Full details of Horizon Power’s changes to hosting capacity limits and the new technical requirements will be released on its website on 1 July 2019. Customers will also be able to assess their eligibility for rooftop solar and apply for a solar connection via the website.

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