Monash University gets ARENA funding to investigate renewables integration into weak grids

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As Australia’s slow-to-adapt grid continues to curtail, delay and hinder renewable energy projects, the Grid Innovation Hub at Monash University is readying to conduct a study that will explore how to manage unstable and weak parts of the electricity grid. The $1.3 million project will use the West Murray region of the North West Victorian network as a case study due to the region’s system stability challenges.

The study will investigate system strength problems in the region, which previously led to a massive 50% curtailment of five solar farms over a period of seven months and adapt to the network conditions and operating decisions in West Murray as they evolve, providing an opportunity for NEM stakeholders to understand and explore solutions to current and emerging issues. It will assess a variety of design, control scheme and configuration solutions, such as synchronous condensers and grid-forming inverters, to manage grid stability issues.

The project is partly funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to the tune of $495,680 and backed by stakeholders who will be providing in-kind support including ABB, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and AusNet Services.

“Monash’s study, while looking at North West Victoria, will aim to provide a solution for other renewable energy zones across Australia and help to increase the value delivered by renewable energy, reduce or remove barriers to renewables uptake and help to increase the overall skills and capacity in this important area.” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said on Wednesday.

Study outcomes

The key goals of the study are clearly defined. It will aim to improve the understanding of approaches to mitigate grid connection risk for renewable developers, increase hosting capacity in weak networks and support a greater understanding of power system security and reliability when operating with higher shares of renewable energy.

“This project should provide insights and possibly even pre-engineered solutions to ease the burden of grid stability and security, and speed up connection approvals,” Dr Behrooz Bahrani, Director of the Grid Innovation Hub, said.

Its outcomes will be applicable to Renewable Energy Zones across the broader National Electricity Market (NEM), such as the ones planned for New South Wales, potentially facilitating the country’s energy transition.

“Australia’s renewable energy future will use decentralised energy sources in areas of high winds and lots of sunshine – and these areas tend to be remote from cities, where the grid is weak,” said Dr Tony Marxsen, Chairman of the Monash Energy Institute’s Grid Innovation Hub. “Even with the strengthened interconnections foreseen in AEMO’s Integrated System Plan, the problem of weak grids in remote areas will continue to challenge large renewable investments.”

In a recent study, AEMO has found that Australia’s main electricity grid already has the technical capability to safely operate a system where 75% of electricity comes from wind and solar. However, for this to happen by as soon as 2025, market conditions and the regulatory environment will need to be modified. On Wednesday, AEMO Managing Director and CEO, Audrey Zibelman, said: “AEMO looks forward to supporting this important government-funded project that will contribute to maintaining system security in a transitioning National Electricity Market with a high share of renewable resources.”

A similar, ARENA-backed study was announced by Powerlink earlier this year. The transmission network service provider said it would investigate system strength issues that had plagued solar and wind projects in North Queensland and explore several technical solutions, as well as business and regulatory models, to facilitate renewable energy penetration on the grid. One of the aspects it will examine is how to harness the potential of inverter-based generation and battery storage for a more stable grid.