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Renewable energy records tumble around Australia as rooftop solar power soars

In Australia, record-breaking power generation from homes and businesses using rooftop solar panels has caused the output of fossil fuels to reach all-time lows.

 

Major points:

  • This spring, rooftop solar output in four Australian states reached record high levels.
  • Demand for electricity from the grid decreased to record low levels due to the generation from rooftop solar.
  • According to experts, the tendency will most certainly continue to grow, emphasising the necessity for significant grid upgrades.

In exceptional circumstances, the past two months have seen record-low grid demand for power in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia.

The power produced by consumers using their own solar panels, which at one point on October 17 provided 92% of South Australia’s overall needs, is not included in the record so-called minimum operating demand.

It generally happens on moderate, bright weekends when solar output is highest but electricity consumption is low due to many companies being closed and frequently no air conditioning functioning.

The trend, according to energy experts, is unlikely to slow down in the face of the explosive growth in rooftop solar installations and emphasises the urgent need for new infrastructure and backup power required to accommodate more renewable energy.

There is little indication that customer demand for solar energy is decreasing (Reuters: Tim Wimborne)

Former electricity system planner Alex Wonhas remarked, “I think we need to get used to that. We have observed records being broken recently.”

“Minimum demand records resemble birthdays in several ways.

“They’ll keep coming back since our demand is almost constant.

“And the residual demand on the system will keep going down and down and down as we instal more and more, particularly behind-the-meter (solar),” the statement continued.

Need for “Balance” in the grid

The Energy Corporation of New South Wales, which is in charge of establishing renewable energy zones in the state, has Dr. Wonhas as a member of its board.

Although rooftop solar’s quick growth was unquestionably a wonderful thing, he noted, it wasn’t without its difficulties.

First off, according to Dr. Wonhas, when the sun wasn’t shining, solar electricity needed to be supplemented by other power sources. This could be done with batteries, pumped hydro, or even gas-fired power plants.

However, more importantly, he claimed that the vast majority of Australia’s solar panel fleet did not yet offer so-called firming services, which helps in maintaining the grid’s stability.

The majority of conventional power sources, such as coal- and gas-fired plants as well as hydroelectric generators, on the other hand, he claimed, naturally offer these services.

With the rise of solar, coal-fired power stations like Yallourn in Victoria have found it difficult to compete (Shutterstock: Kip Scott)

He pointed out that in order to address the technological issues, authorities were deploying batteries and even equipment known as synchronous condensers, which perform many of the firming functions without producing electricity.

More of these investments, he argued, were urgently needed.

In simple terms, he explained, “it’s somewhat like when you ride your bicycle.”

“Fast riding keeps you stable and reduces fluctuations because of the rotation of the wheels and the inertia they generate.

“Additionally, these oscillations may grow in size as you go more slowly.

“Batteries and these [synchronous condensers] can help maintain the bicycle steady so it doesn’t wobble.

You don’t want your energy system to be unstable.

Fixes are “very simple.”

In the event that the grid is at risk of overload, the Australian Energy Market Operator, which oversees both the wholesale market in Western Australia and the national power market in the Eastern States, has the authority to turn off individual solar panels.

Kate Ryan, the head of AEMO in WA, indicated recently on ABC radio in Perth that the organisation had not yet used the powers and did not anticipate doing so within the next six months.

Though South Australia has the highest solar adoption in the nation, the powers have been activated there.

According to Andrew Blakers from the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Australian National University, developments this spring have demonstrated how Australia is the world leader in the adoption and integration of solar power.

Professor Blakers, an expert in renewable energy and energy systems engineering, concurred that Australia needed to deal with the changes that were taking place since they were headed in only one direction.

Professor Blakers stated, “There are numerous things that we need to do to ensure that the system remains reliable.

“The system will stop being dependable if we don’t follow through with them.

“However, they are really simple.

“In order to distribute the energy, these include ever-increasing quantities of batteries, pumped hydro systems, and ever-stronger transmission.

Therefore, if it’s very windy and sunny in Queensland, we may send it south and pay it forwards the next day.

The need for smarter consumers

Professor Blakers asserts that in order to do this, Australia required to significantly improve the efficiency of its energy consumption through strategies like demand management.

This can involve offering incentives to individuals, companies, and other organisations to reduce or even cease all usage while the grid is under stress.

More than three million homes in Australia have solar panels on their roofs (Supplied: Project Symphony)

He argued that adding more demand to the grid in the evening when solar was not producing would be “insane,” saying the impending electric vehicle revolution would only increase the need for behaviour change.

Therefore, he continued, “we charge the electric vehicles when it’s sunny and breezy and we don’t charge them at 7 in the evening on a summer night when the sun has set and the air conditioning is running.”

“Australia currently produces twice as much solar energy per inhabitant as any other nation.

“Australia is the world’s solar compass.

What we learn about coping with high solar and wind loads is immediately applicable to the following nations, including Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Chile, and others.

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