The energy system in WA is undergoing major transformation. There's a huge increase in the uptake of solar and other renewable energy sources, and this puts potential pressure on existing systems. The current uptake of 1 in 3 WA homes having a solar installation is expected to increase to 1 in 2 by 2030.
So how can our infrastructure, industry and regulations be prepared for this evolving ecosystem?
Why is increased solar energy supply an issue?
In recent times it’s been reported that during certain periods the power supply in the South West Integrated System (SWIS) has been supplied by almost 80% renewable energy. At face value this sounds like a good thing - and it is - but it has implications for infrastructure, among other things.
With higher rates of solar installation in Australia, demands on the central system are lower on certain days (and times of day), leading to volatility and instability. This instability can lead to blackouts.
That there are more households with solar also has implications for tariffs and funding. Some homes (such as apartments and renters) are unable to install solar, leaving them paying more than their share of underlying system costs (which benefit everyone). So tariffs become inconsistent with the system operation and value experienced across the board.
What updates are needed?
Over the past two years there has been great collaboration among industry players to improve the security of WA’s SWIS. But a report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has highlighted that more needs to be done.
One of the factors is record rates of solar installations. With installed rooftop solar capacity expected to basically double in the next decade, infrastructure and regulations need to be adapted. The AEMO has recommended “additional operational tools, new standards, system services, and regulatory arrangement”.
The agenda for innovation includes integration of rooftop solar, energy batteries held by households and communities, and electric vehicles into the primary grid.
More battery storage is needed, to help stabilise the overall system. This might take the form of individual households and vehicles, or community batteries. In the case of the latter, development of a system for valuing and paying for shared storage services is required.
New tariff structures may be needed, to encourage customers to run appliances during the day when solar generation is high.
Other infrastructure will also be required, such as reactor units to manage situations when energy demand is lower than the system can safely withstand.
Virtual power plants also form part of the picture, as does associated regulation and monitoring.
Widespread customer engagement and education is also required, as well as advocacy for vulnerable customers.
The AEMO specifically outlines 13 recommendations.
The WA government is on the case, with a $14.2 million package to help deliver a Whole of System Plan. This plan - and the taskforce running it - will help fund policy and market development, model long-term power system situations, and coordinate the energy sector.
Everyone in the industry - from customers to retailers and infrastructure providers - needs to work together to create and ensure a secure, stable, affordable and reliable system. At Plico we’re proud to be playing our part.
Plico members are part of a growing movement towards reliable renewable energy. If you’d like to learn more about installing a solar + battery solution and being part of the movement, book an obligation-free site visit by talking to one of our friendly team members or calling 1300 175 426.