Solution to energy transition might be over our heads

Australia’s clean energy transition may have “stalled” but the answer could already be on our rooftops, experts say.

Home batteries, electric cars and heat pumps are being installed alongside Australia’s world-leading rooftop solar, creating a capacity to store excess daytime energy for use in the evenings and overnight.

An independent report by Nexa Advisory released on Monday has called for a national strategy to harness the power of millions of these household and business assets known as distributed energy resources (DER).

“Australia’s clean energy transition has stalled,” said Stephanie Bashir, CEO and founder of consultancy firm Nexa that services the energy sector.

“The solution is to give the power to the people.”

Despite the influx of new taxpayer funding under a $20 billion Rewiring the Nation program, there are planning and investment delays for new large-scale generators, big batteries and the transmission lines needed to connect clean energy to customers.

Virtual power plants could be formed from linking rooftop solar, other home energy management systems, and electric cars with bi-directional charging that can be a potential “battery on wheels” for the home or business.

“Australians love rooftop solar. They love the cost of living impact, they love the climate impact, and they love the control over their own costs and assets,” Ms Bashir said.

Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) Daniel Westerman is working on plans to manage up to 100 per cent renewable energy, but says the market cannot dispatch power from rooftops the way it can from utility-scale solar and wind farms.

“And having so much generation that doesn’t respond to market signals or operational signals, can sometimes be a challenge,” Mr Westerman told a business summit.

“An oversupply of energy from solar rooftops – when supply of electricity becomes greater than demand – can cause the grid to lose balance and lead to serious consequences,” he said.

The power system continuously faces small disturbances, from lightning strikes to localised faults, which are managed by the operators. There is also the risk of unplanned outages – or blackouts.

“If our rooftop solar systems can’t ride through these disturbances like other generators do, and instead disconnect en-masse, this can also cause significant issues,” he warned.

Mr Westerman said small trials have successfully shown that actively managing DER brings down the cost of the energy system for everyone but the uptake of these virtual power plants is disappointingly low.

“But virtual power plants are an area of development and opportunity, and I hope this will be a significant area of growth in the years ahead,” he said.

Consumer energy assets are on the agenda of the next meeting of energy ministers, to be held in Western Australia in November.

Nexa is calling for ministers to immediately establish a national body with enough funding to roll out a nationwide approach.

“DER is Australia’s secret weapon in transition – it is what will make us a clean energy superpower,” Ms Bashir said.

Tariffs should begin to favour customers instead of energy companies and ministers should direct the market bodies, including AEMO, on technical and regulatory fixes, Nexa said.

Outdated network voltage standards must also be overhauled to cope with 21st century assets.

Other recommendations include forcing network service providers to disclose network data, which should promote competition and reduce monopoly behaviour that stings consumers, the company said.


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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