With the adoption of solar, on both residential and commercial rooftops continuing at a fast rate, we are trialling innovative ways to manage the two-way flow of electricity on the network.
While traditionally networks were designed for one-way flow, we’re now managing two-way power flow caused by electricity feeding back into the network from solar power generation.
There are a lot of benefits from solar including a greener grid and cheaper power. However high penetration solar also creates some challenges with network stability because days of high solar generation result in lower power use from the network (known as low load). Where the electricity from excess solar penetration is not used, it feeds into the grid causing two-way flows and voltage management issues on the network.
We’ve been implementing a range of different technology solutions, including community batteries, to help smooth the flow on the grid and now we’ve added a new tool to the box.
In an Australian-first, we’re collaborating with commercial and industrial businesses to manage their energy usage to test a new way of supporting the grid – the Flexibility Services Pilot.
How the trial works
The Flexibility Services Pilot involves large-scale commercial or industrial businesses, that either use or generate power (or both), to shift their power use during forecast low-load times. Each year this represents around 26 days over weekends during Spring and Autumn.
During those times, the partners will be asked to implement their individual energy management plans to either use more power from the network, or reduce their own solar power generation to reduce the amount of solar energy spilling into the network.
Given the large energy loads these businesses use and generate, they have the capability to help reduce voltage issues and balance network stability.
The energy shift will only be needed for a few hours on just a few days of the year when solar generation and lower power use collide.
“We want to help businesses manage their distributed energy resources (DER) such as their solar power systems, battery storage, hot water systems, pool pumps, smart appliances and air conditioning systems for optimal use while enabling more grid stability,” says Western Power Distribution System Operator (DSO) Product Owner, Kathryn Granheim.
“Additionally, businesses that work with us are financially compensated for managing their energy use during the required periods.”
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Different ways of shifting and managing energy
The pilot partners will test ways to manage their power for four-hour blocks in the middle of the day, when solar generation is at its peak.
Each of the partners have significant energy loads and generation. Given they include a variety of businesses, each has different ways to manage their energy within the pilot.
While some will switch off their large-scale solar panels for a couple of hours, others will shift operational schedules to use more energy during the required periods. This includes:
- changing building pre-cooling or pre-heating times,
- shifting times for machinery use,
- modifying pumping schedules and water heating / cooling schedules,
- increasing electric vehicle charging and battery energy management services.
Think of it like a solar sponge.
“There is a lot of research out there about the different ways that energy can be managed, sometimes with just small changes, to really have a benefit on the entire system, without disrupting an individual business operation,” says Granheim.
“A good example is where a community swimming pool could turn on its water heating and pool pumps slightly later in the day to make the most of the solar generation peaks that occur in the middle of the day.
“Or if a business has a lot of freezers and coolers, turning the temperature down a notch to use more power at key times of the day, ensuring there is no impact to the product. Or making air-con temperatures a bit lower during those peak periods, therefore using more energy and keeping the temperature cooler during the hotter periods of the day.
“These are small changes, which can also be automated in a way that suits the specific business requirements, further reducing the workload for a business to participate. A lot of small changes combined together make a big difference.
“Given every business is different, the pilot is really helping businesses to think laterally about their energy use patterns, so many of the smart solutions come from businesses themselves.
“And as well as supporting business operations, they also get financially rewarded for participating.”
Where to next?
Following the completion of the Flexibility Services Pilot next year, Granheim says the data collected from the experiences of the initial partners will help Western Power better understand how the Flexibility Services program could be offered in the future.
“We’ll have a much better idea of what’s needed to effectively integrate this long term and determine the best solutions for our customers.
“From our end, we’ll also have a better understanding of the technology, processes and capabilities we need to procure and manage energy flexibility provided by businesses.
“This is a really exciting pilot to be involved in, as it’s a significant change to the way we work with our commercial and industrial partners.
“We all have something to gain. Our partners get to optimise their DER while supporting the network for commercial benefit, and we’re able to better manage for the stability of the network. This means a greater solar energy future for Western Australians.”
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