ARENA backs distributed generation projects with close to $10 million

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With world-leading levels of rooftop PV, Australia is emerging as a laboratory for the effects of large amounts of solar power on grid operation. To better understand the mechanisms at play and to potentially facilitate yet higher penetration levels of rooftop solar, ARENA is backing 12 distributed generation projects and studies.

“It is projected that up to half of all electricity could be generated by consumers within the next few decades, up from around 4% today,” said Darren Miller, ARENA CEO, in a statement “This is a huge change and will require innovations in software, hardware and thinking to achieve the best outcome for consumers,” he said.

Digital technology including software plays a central role to the projects receiving ARENA grants, with systems being designed to calculate, monitor and communicate the distributed energy resources (DER) on the grid and their capabilities. The remote control of these assets by grid operators and utilities is also a part of some of the projects.

With a better understanding of both the capabilities of, primarily, rooftop PV and batteries dispersed throughout the grid and also more granularity of information regarding their location, it is likely that higher penetration levels of residential and commercial and industrial solar can be achieved – an increase of “DER hosting capacity”.

Alongside solar and battery storage, DER also refers to controllable loads, e-mobility chargers, and household appliances that can be digitally controlled – like fridges, AC units, hot water heaters and pool pumps. Virtual power plant (VPP) projects will also play a role, and one of the ARENA grants is $1.03 million to SA Power Networks to design an interface between its grid control infrastructure and the Tesla VPP currently being rolled out.

The largest of the DER grants in this round of funding goes towards Zeppelin Bend for its Evolve project. Evolve involves developing software to be applied on the Augrid Essential and Endeavour Energy networks. The project picked up $4.29 million in grants.

Alongside Zeppelin Bend and SA Power Networks, Jemena Electricity Networks, Solar Analytics and RACV have been granted funding for DER projects by ARENA. The agency says that the grants will compliment work on its Distributed Energy Integration Program (DEIP).

Alongside the projects, ARENA is providing $2.38 million in funding to various state and national programs focused on DER capabilities, economic impacts and enabling policies.