Grid connection in Australia: Our Q&A with Risen Australia grid connection manager Michael Forder (Continued)

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, it’s future and place in Australia.

Q: What changes are necessary in Australia’s grid to effectively connect solar farms?

A: An increase in the number of transmission lines and substations for the connection as well as interconnectors between states to ensure electricity generated can seamlessly and unconstrained move across the National Electricity Market. As solar farms are based on inverter-based technology, they lack essential reactive power (or inertia) which requires additional plant (like batteries with grid forming inverters, or synchronous condensers or other technologies) to be added to maintain system integrity.

Q: What technological advancements do you think will shape the future of grid connection?

A: As “traditional” fossil fuelled synchronous generators are removed from the market (due to being retired or mothballed) and replaced with other forms of generation technology (rooftop solar, large scale solar, Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS), hydro-electric etc), the complexities of renewables not being as reliable or as “on demand” as their retired fossil fuelled counterparts, will require innovative solutions to ensure that supply meets demand on cold or hot days as well as at day or at night times 24/7. Just as the National Electricity Rules (NERs) have become more complicated to accommodate the inclusion of non-synchronous inverter-based generators, other generator and system security technologies will emerge to offset existing synchronous generator types will likely demand additional network hardware solutions to ensure network integrity.

Q: What challenges do you anticipate as the solar industry continues to evolve and expand?

A: The solar industry’s growth may lead to increased demand for new connections to the grid, necessitating further upgrades and expansions. Additionally, ensuring grid stability and reliable energy supply with intermittent renewable sources will remain a prominent challenge.

Q: Is Australia’s electricity grid ready for a net-zero emissions transition by 2050?

A: According to the reports that I have seen and conferences that I have attended, the pace at which the required grid augmentation and renewable energy generators being developed and connected is not meeting the required targets. Some reports outline that for every gigawatt of fossil fuelled generator being removed, the equivalent of seven to eight times more generation capacity is required by using renewable generators on the basis that the renewable generators are not “on demand” as it isn’t always sunny and windy and BESSs need to be charged once they are depleted.

If you look at “Pocket NEM” – which is an app on a phone to show the current generation across the NEM – generally at any time of the day (and more so in winter, during the night), fossil fuelled generators (primarily coal) equate to about 60% of the total NEM’s generation. So, for the last 20 years, we have only transitioned 40% away from fossil fuelled generators.

So, consider it challenging but not mission impossible!

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