Grid connection challenges explained: Our Q&A with Risen Australia grid connection manager Michael Forder

Michael Forder is our expert grid connection manager here at Risen Energy Australia. Before joining Risen he handled numerous grid connection projects for ElectraNet (the Transmission Network Service Provider in South Australia) and managed grid connection teams and connection work for AGL’s Barker Inlet Power Station, Nexif Energy’s Snapper Point Power Station and numerous other major capital projects. He holds a mechanical engineering degree and a diploma in project management.

In this insightful Q&A, we ask Michael some of the biggest questions around grid connection, highlighting the importance of having expertise in this area when developing large scale solar.

Q: Why is grid connection often referred to as a ‘bottleneck’ for the solar industry? What challenges do developers face when connecting new solar projects to the grid?

A: Grid connection covers many tasks and aspects. Hence why it is often seen as a “bottle-neck” to simply making money from exporting electricity to the grid. A simplified definition of grid connection is the work required to design, build and connect a generation facility and for it to be connected to the grid ready for use (i.e. electricity generation). Using this simplified definition, the grid connection work can be split into “pre” and “post” connection agreement execution.

Furthermore, there are many “pre and post” connection agreement challenges developers face when progressing solar (and other projects).

Q: Can you explain the significance of this connection agreement in solar projects and its role in enabling revenue generation?

A: The connection agreement is one of the most important contracts to be executed or “signed-off” before a facility can be connected to the grid and turned on to generate electricity to the grid. Specifically, once the connection agreement is executed – between the project developer/owner (such as Risen Energy) and the Network Service provider or NSP (aka, the grid operator) is completed, then – and only then – can electricity be generated to the grid and the project owner can receive money from the electricity generated.

Q: You mentioned that there were challenges pre and post connection agreement. What are the primary challenges faced when progressing solar projects before executing the connection agreement, and as you put it, ‘pre connection agreement’?

A: Before executing the connection agreement, developers must tackle issues such as:

  • Finding suitable land of sufficient size and quality
  • Identifying cost-effective grid connection options
  • Obtaining Development Application (DA) approval
  • Addressing cultural heritage, vegetation, and fauna considerations
  • Securing project funding and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs)
  • Developing the connection application, including creating Generator Performance Standards (GPS)

Q: Why does the development of Generator Performance Standards (GPS) often contribute to delays in grid connection?

A: Developing GPS involves creating theoretical models of the generator’s performance, which can be complex and time-consuming. Simulation tests and addressing performance issues can take months or years. Additionally, obtaining the AEMO 5.3.4a letter, a prerequisite for executing the connection agreement, adds to the time and complexity of the process.

Q: What are the challenges faced after executing the connection agreement, as you put it ‘Post Connection Agreement’ for a solar project?

A: After executing the connection agreement, developers face challenges including:

  • Tendering project work for detailed design, procurement, construction, and commissioning.
  • Registering the generation facility with AEMO and completing R2 commissioning.
  • Designing the facility which considers selection of appropriate plant and equipment and their configurations based on site specific parameters like geotechnical studies, survey, and flood studies for civil footings, site water management as well as project specific requirements as outlined in the GPS and Connection Application and finally, integration and connection requirements of the facility to “the grid”.
  • Overcoming procurement challenges, including lead times and potential shipping issues.
  • Dealing with construction complexities, including native vegetation and cultural heritage considerations.
  • Conducting commissioning to ensure compliance with design and GPS.
  • Undertaking R2 commissioning for final performance validation.

Q: Can you provide insight into the resources and time required for grid connection compared to other stages of large-scale solar project development?

A: Finding land and obtaining DA approval can take over a year. Developing a GPS, a critical component, requires around two to three years of effort to receive the AEMO 5.3.4a letter. The transmission connection agreement can take six months once the AEMO letter is received before it can be executed. Design, procurement and construction of the facility and the connection works can take around two years. Hence, large scale projects can typically be completed within four to six years (beginning to end).

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