Distributed energy will play a key role in Renewable Energy Zones. Here’s how.
With the continued stream of announcements around the early closure of coal-fired power plants across Australia, Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) are a key way forward as coal makes its exit.
To date, there are 41 potential REZs flagged for potential development, each undergoing different phases of planning and consultation.
According to a recent EnergyCo event, New South Wales has less than 15 years to replace its fossil fuel generation, driving home the urgency of the REZ rollout.
It seems that the industry is up to the challenge, and the support for REZs has been strong. Expressions of interest have already yielded overwhelming and positive responses from the industry in the form of project proposals.
REZs are fast becoming the ‘modern day power station’. They promise to replace fossil-fuel generation with large-scale solar, wind farms and grid-scale storage combined with high-voltage transmission infrastructure to serve local regions and provide affordable and reliable clean energy to communities.
As they begin to come online, REZs will put the energy transition into hyperdrive.
With the continued stream of announcements around the early closure of coal-fired power plants acros
While REZs are great, they tend to overlook a key part of what makes Australia’s transition to renewables unique: the phenomenal success of distributed energy resources (DER) like rooftop solar and batteries, and the massive head start Australia has in building technology to manage these assets.
So what role can DER play in a REZ?
It’s helpful to picture a REZ as functioning like a self-contained microgrid with a wide range of connected assets (mostly large). A REZ connects to the National Electricity Market (NEM) via long transmission lines, which for most REZs are part of the build-out.
Within the geographical Zone itself, people still consume - and generate - electricity (from their solar panels, etc.) just like they would if they lived outside of a REZ. However, as part of the REZ, there is an extra opportunity for them to potentially benefit from contributing to it.
What would we need for this to happen? DER should be integrated and managed within a REZ as ‘non-network’ solutions to deliver energy locally and effectively, balancing supply and demand on the distribution network with whatever assets are locally available. Furthermore, data from this DER fleet could help to coordinate its operation with large-scale projects in the REZ. Ultimately, this will benefit REZ residents, project developers and operators, and anyone using the electricity produced from within the Zone.
Innovative DER solutions like this are already being deployed by network operators around Australia (and SwitchDin is helping to drive more than a few of these).
And even without orchestration, DER are proving their mettle time and time again.
Smashed records speak a thousand words
There is no longer a question about whether DER can support the grid.
In a single week in October, two incidents in South Australia and Western Australia have shown how solar can service energy demand.
The combined forces of rooftop and utility scale solar met the equivalent of all of South Australia’s electricity demand for more than six hours on Sunday 16 Oct, as “operational demand” was nearly eliminated, falling to a record low on the same day.
(Operational demand is the demand for electricity that is met by generators with a capacity of 30MW and larger - any generation that happens under this threshold is lumped in with ‘demand’.)
The graph from AEMO highlights the role that rooftop and utility scale solar played during the day, accounting for more than 100 percent of the state’s electricity demand between 10am until after 4pm on Sunday.
In Western Australia, rooftop solar supplied nearly three quarters of the state’s electricity needs at one point, pushing operational demand to record lows in the process. AEMO reported that the record on consecutive days over a recent weekend was first to 683MW on Saturday the 15th, and then to 626MW on Sunday the 16th.
These instances show the power of rooftop solar. And they don’t even involve (much) DER orchestration.
Unlocking the power of orchestration
The next step for solar management is - counterintuitively - the ability to remotely switch off solar. This is an interim approach that is necessary for maintaining grid stability, and you can read more about the current state of solar management in this article.
Looking forward, solar will play a responsive and integral role in the management of our energy systems in coordination with energy storage and V2X applications, and other flexible generation technologies like pumped hydro and gas peaker plants.
With our clients, SwitchDin has demonstrated the ability to integrate DER-based, non-network solutions into energy networks, to bolster grid stability and efficiency.
Our Stormcloud platform is being used across Australia’s energy systems to do just this. Whether it is Project Symphony in WA, Flexible Exports in SA and VIC, or Simply Energy’s National Virtual Power Plant, energy companies trust SwitchDin to deliver grid services with DER. Through these and other projects, we are demonstrating how non-network solutions can scale to meet the needs of our rapidly transforming grid.
Bringing together small to medium sized assets with other large scale clean energy assets, we can deliver fully renewables-powered communities via the REZs. To make this a reality, the industry needs to attract further investments in mid-sized storage assets to support rooftop solar generation.
Not all REZs are created equal
Each of the regional profiles across the 41 identified REZs are unique, and not all regions have the same penetration of DER assets. However, we were surprised by the facts we found through our research on the Hunter-Central Coast REZ.
Data from the APVI indicates that the Hunter-Central Coast REZ region is home to about 990,000kW of rooftop solar capacity. Within this region, rooftop solar provides close to 1.5TWh of clean energy, powering the equivalent of about 220,000 houses a year (based on an average household consumption of 18 kWh per day).
The intended network capacity for the Hunter-Central Coast REZ is 1GW and it will serve 90,000 residential and business customers, with additional solar providing another 500MW in combined capacity and 4.5TWh of energy consumed annually.
Even though DER are sometimes described as ‘intermittent generation’, we can scale this with commercial and industrial sized energy storage and augment it with a big battery like the Waratah Super Battery to allow non-network solutions to provide time shifting capabilities across the region.
REZs will reshape our grid - and DER can reshape our concept of a REZ
Our view is that non-network solutions with DER can play a critical role in the development of REZs, including the Hunter-Central Coast REZ. While the momentum gathers behind the introduction of REZs across Australia, we cannot ignore the power of rooftop solar and its integration with energy storage to deliver a new application and business model to support Australia’s ambitions towards a future where renewables take on a critical role in powering the nation.
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