Can there be such a thing as having too much solar energy? Analysts who track renewable energy sources say Australia can look forward to one hundred percent of their power provided by solar power as solar panel installation growth continues to increase.
But energy regulators state that Australia’s grid stability could be at risk without careful management of this new resource. What’s the story behind that?
South Australia hit a global milestone of particular significance in October 2020. By experiencing a renewable energy boom of note, the Australian state once well-known for facing a future with not enough power, became the first major territory in the world to be powered completely by solar energy.
It was only for an hour, but in that hour, South Australia could boast that 100% of its energy demands were being met by solar panel installations alone. The event was described as a truly global energy phenomenon by the Australian Energy Market Operators.
This was made possible by large-scale solar panel farms, such as the ones at Port Augusta and Tailem Bend, which produced 23% of the whole supply.
More electricity coming in than going out
If a situation occurs when there is less electricity going out than coming in, that could lead to problems with grid stability.
For example, if the interconnector is down, problems can occur. And this happens more often than we realize, as the interconnector went down in February, 2020.
AEMO are forecasting an extra 36,000 new solar panel system installations will be made on rooftops, over the next year and two months, in South Australia alone.
Add that to the nearly 300,000 homes (roughly one third) that are already generating their own electricity, and that comes to an awful lot of electricity with no outlet if something goes wrong with the interconnector.
Not likely to slow down the commitment households have made to solar panel installation
Homeowners are still likely to have solar panels fitted, especially as electricity bills continue to rise.
The news that South Australian Power Networks are now allowed to flip the switch of all new domestic solar panel installations if they gauge too much energy derived from these sources would put their system under pressure.
A spokesperson for the Power Network said: “It’s more about effective grid management than an attempt to impact solar panel operations.”
Retailers specialising in solar panel installations say homeowners, and those businesses committed to making renewable resources their long term power choice, have not been put off by the notification. The flow of enquiries still come in at a steady rate and many interesting conversations on how to educate people to the new regulations are now part of the customer service package.
AEMO introduced the changes because it was worried all the excess solar power coming from rooftops would cause mayhem with voltage levels and possibly end up causing blackouts.
To this end, new inverters must have the correct software allowing them to be remotely controlled.
solar power in first world countries
South Australia leading the way, Victoria and Queensland to follow
Similar remote control actions is needed in Victoria and Queensland. South Australian Power Network states that any switch off mechanisms would only be implemented as a last resort and only if grid stability was at risk. They reemphasise that all the system needs is good management.
Solar power is still a great investment to make now and for the future, in both Australia and New Zealand. It offers an exciting future for both countries; each one dedicated to putting things in place to manage grid health and viability.
This includes making it more cost effective for homeowners and businesses to use power during daytime and encouraging people to activate dishwashers, hot water systems, and pool pumps manually or remotely during the middle of the day.
What is the next step in solar power?
The next step in solar power is convincing homeowners to connect batteries in order to store cheap and affordable energy during the day and using it at night. It would function a bit like a bear in hibernation, with the bear eating lots of food during the plentiful summer days and then using it and conserving it during the winter.
This must sound appealing to those homeowners wanting to make the switch to solar power. There are plans to build and bigger, brand new interconnector in NSW to help manage the grid and the growth of solar energy in the region.
We could be looking at South Australia being in the position to becoming an energy exporter to other jurisdictions.
And who knows what’s next? Maybe exporting solar energy to other countries is on the cards for New Zealand and Australia in the future.
beautiful sunset with solar power background