The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has this week launched a $7 million funding initiative that is designed to test and prove how renewable energy technologies can better provide grid stability and security services.
Over the past few years, the share of electricity generation in Australia has seen a marked sea change, steadily moving away from the country’s traditional reliance on coal-powered generation and natural gas. States like South Australia and Victoria have begun ramping up their renewable energy capacity, but this has in turn shifted the balance away from synchronous generators towards variable energy sources like wind and solar.
As such, grid managers are beginning to focus their attention on integrating energy storage — such as the mammoth Hornsdale Power Reserve, a 129 megawatt-hour (MWh) Tesla lithium-ion energy storage facility in South Australia, which was turned on for the first time towards the end of 2017. “South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy,” said then-state Premier Jay Weatherill, at the official launch of the Hornsdale wind farm to which the Hornsdale Power Reserve is connected.
The Hornsdale Power Reserve is a prime example of how Australia is using the increasing share of renewable energy and combining it with grid stability services to replace the traditional services which were provided by fossil fuel-generated synchronous generation.
The new AUD$7 million (USD$5.23) in funding from Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which was announced on Wednesday, seeks to further develop new technologies which can also provide grid stability and security services — and will support projects such as system strength provision, frequency control ancillary services (FCAS), fast frequency response (FFR), inertia provision and measurement, and other services that may enhance system security.
“System security has been a key focus of industry regulators, the market operator and participants. It was also the priority of the Finkel Review,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht, who also explained that demonstrating that renewables can also stabilise fluctuations in frequency and voltage could be an important step in paving the way for more renewables to be connected to the Australian grid. “As our electricity system transforms from a system of centralised synchronous generators to more diversified generation that includes more and more renewables, we need to find ways to deliver power system stability and security using less fossil fuels.”
“If successful, these pilot projects will save consumers money and create new revenue streams for solar, wind and battery operators.”
The Hornsdale Wind Farm in South Australia was a beneficiary of funding from ARENA to trial frequency control ancillary services (FCAS) (as was the 168 MW Musselroe Wind Farm in Tasmania which is still underway) and is now registered for six of eight FCAS markets in Australia. The project will provide valuable insights into the cost-benefit of using pre-curtailment to provide FCAS services from a new technology source.
“This funding initiative will build upon these projects and invites applications for additional system services to be provided by renewable technologies,” Mr Frischknecht said. “By reducing the need for thermal generation to keep the system stable, the cost of energy will reduce over time.”
Fortunately, it appears as if ARENA’s funding is not just Australia’s renewable energy industry tilting at windmills (so to speak). I spoke to Giles Parkinson, the Founder and Editor of Australia’s RenewEconomy, who told me there was “a very great future” for renewables providing grid stability and security services.
“There is increasing recognition that new technologies can do all the services that were once provided only by coal and gas plants,” Parkinson added. “More cheaply, and with greater speed and accuracy, so we should see the cost of these service reflected in the price of these services, rather than the inflated prices we have seen recently thanks to the gas cartel.”
However, as Parkinson notes, “new rules are needed” from the Australian Government if renewables are to have the opportunity to fulfil this role.
“The market operator and others have recognised that many of the services that can be provided by inverter based technologies and battery storage are not recognised in a market rule-book that took into account only slow-moving conventional technologies,” Parkinson noted. “So, just as we needed new roads, and new rules, to cope with the advent of the car, so we need new rules to cope with the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.”