Solar PV a great bulwark to summer blackouts, says AEMO

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The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has released its 2019/2020 Summer Readiness Report after months of collaboration with generators, governments, agencies and industry in order to best manage the heightened risks of the period. 

“The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) is forecasting both warmer than average and extreme temperatures this summer,” says AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman, “and an ongoing and significant risk of bushfires with drier than usual conditions.” 

“These risks add to the deteriorating reliability of some of the older coal generation plants,” continued Zibelman, “whilst unexpected events can and do happen, particularly when the power system is under significant pressure and most prone to failure, AEMO has worked diligently to prepare the power system appropriately, including the procurement of emergency resources.” 

However, AEMO is undoubtedly pleased to see 3,700 MW of increased generation into the National Electricity Market (NEM) since last summer, with rooftop and grid-scale solar generation representing approximately 90% of this increase. The summer sun may bring added risk, but also added rewards. 

“The introduction of these resources delivers a welcomed improvement to reliability and reduces the need to procure further out of market reserves,” noted Zibelman. 

The influx of solar PV is expected to cover much of the increased underlying demand (total energy used by consumers), which is expected to increase this year. At the same time, despite the general apathy in transforming the grid to best integrate the influx of renewables, the growing supply of rooftop PV is not expected to translate to higher grid demand. 

Due to the continued influx of rooftop PV AEMO is seeking out improvements to the number and sampling of real-time rooftop PV feeds in order to enhance near-time solar forecasting systems and reduce uncertainty. During 2019 these improvements were implemented in the addition of 3,000 new data points from rooftop PV systems across the NEM.  

The main impact of rooftop PV upon demand is the trend of shifting maximum demand to later in the day, as consumers utilising their rooftop PV systems generate more energy in the daytime and only start to draw on grid supply in the evening. 

For the 2019/20 summer, AEMO has secured 125 MW of reserves through off-market generation, along with demand management programs to put behind the NEM in case of excessive pressure. These reserves are bolstered by more than 1,5000 short and medium notice RERT agreements across the NEM which allow AEMO to more rapidly enter into reserve contracts if necessary. 

Of key concern to AEMO is Victoria, where Loy Yang A brown coal generator and the Mortlake gas plant are currently on long-term outages. These two generators are planned to return to the fold before summer really kicks off. If this promise is not kept, Victoria could be in real trouble of meeting its reliability standard. 

AEMO is also concerned at the threat of dust storms. The ongoing drought and bushfire conditions throughout the country, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, means dust storms have an increased likelihood as dry soil combines with high winds. AEMO is concerned one of the issues posed by dust storms is that the particles may obscure solar panels, reducing output. 

Awareness of the effects of climatic and weather conditions such as the likelihood of dust storms is all part of the increased extensive training provided to AEMO operators and support staff.