The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has launched a AUD 2.1 million ($1.6 million) research project to assess how rooftop solar PV and other small-scale distributed energy resources (DER) respond to unexpected failures in the National Electricity Market (NEM), and how such assets can be used to bolster power system security.
The three-year project will identify the best ways to manage the continuing influx of rooftop solar and other DERs, how such assets respond to contingency events such as the loss of a transmission line, and how they can be used to protect the NEM from such events in the future. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which is partnering with the UNSW and solar-monitoring company Solar Analytics on the project, has shown that the high penetration of rooftop solar presents critical challenges to Australia’s power system security.
Renewable energy generation has almost doubled in Australia in the past five years and now accounts for more than one quarter of the nation’s electricity supply. Data provided by the Clean Energy Council (CEC) shows that the nation's renewable energy generation rocketed from 14.6% in 2015 to 27.7% in 2020, with much of the increase due to more than 3 GW of new small-scale PV capacity added in 2020.
Australia is now leading the world in rooftop solar PV installations, with more than 2.5 million systems across the country. But research project lead Naomi Stringer, from the UNSW’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, said there is work to be done to effectively integrate them across the power system.
“How these systems behave when sitting on our rooftops can have material impacts on the broader electricity grid,” she said. “Unexpected events such as lightning strikes and equipment failures take place every day in the power grid. Very occasionally major disturbances occur, and the ability of the overall power system to ride through and then recover is key. Impacts of rooftop solar can be particularly acute during disturbance events when the grid is already strained, posing new risks to power system security.”
Stringer said there is very little data showing how solar PV behaves during contingency events, but noted that there are opportunities to harness rooftop solar capabilities to help restore power system security.
The aim of the research project is to improve data capture, assess inverter behaviour, inform the development of new standards, and set up tools and frameworks for the long-term monitoring of solar and DER asset behavior. The project findings will be used by AEMO to improve planning and operation of the grid power system. It aims to ensure that conservative measures that might adversely affect PV system owners and the public more generally are avoided.
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