With 18 years under his belt at EA Technology, Neil Davies has seen first-hand how evolving energy generation and usage patterns has changed the demands on Australia’s electricity distribution network. Now in an era of rapid technological development, he’s excited to be a part of ground-breaking consumer trials and projects to ensure reliable energy supply as Australia moves towards a more diverse energy mix.
From an engineer’s perspective, how do large-scale low carbon technologies pose a challenge for Australia’s grid stability?
Disruptive low carbon technologies are arriving in several forms and all will have an impact on networks. On the consumer side, mass-market electric vehicles and the wider adoption of domestic reverse-cycle air-conditioning will create entirely new load patterns. We also have to factor in technologies including solar PV and wind at energy farm scale as well as the long-term potential for battery storage. Their uptake will certainly accelerate and networks will need adapting and managing accordingly.
What projects are you working on to ensure safe and reliable energy supply as Australia moves towards a low-carbon future?
We have developed a new tool called the Transform Model, which enables operators to plan responses to changing energy generation and usage patterns using low carbon/smart grid technologies, rather than simply reacting by reinforcing infrastructures. Transform Model has been endorsed fully in the UK by Ofgem, the electricity and gas market regulator in Great Britain, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Forum. Subsequently, it’s been adopted by every distribution network operator in Great Britain. Results include a
$370 million lower investment requirement for 2015-2023 compared with reactive reinforcement. It is currently being adopted by members of the New Zealand ENA/Smart Grid Forum and clearly has potential in Australia.
What are the commercial challenges of integrating renewable energy sources and storage systems into the supply grid?
One of the most important questions is about price points – how cheap does something have to be to make it commercially viable? For example, when will electric vehicles become affordable or when will domestic level battery storage reach grid parity? Uncertainties arise because the issues relate to government policy as much as the industry. However, the range of possible scenarios can be modelled on a what-if basis with the model I discussed earlier.
What research are you doing into electric vehicles and the effect they will have on the grid in the next five-10 years?
EA Technology has led a ground-breaking consumer trial on electric vehicles in the UK called My Electric Avenue, designed to create a realistic simulation of an EV community in 2030. In addition to studying customer behaviour, it has produced valuable evidence of the effect of mass-market electric vehicles on the local distribution network and the steps needed to manage load changes.
What can industry learn from micro grids in other regions?
There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ micro grid, but there are plenty that work fine. For example, EA Technology has been involved in helping establish two micro grids in the UK – one for a rural village and one for a deprived inner city area – each with its own challenges and opportunities. The important thing is to learn from what works best and to not re-invent the wheel.
What needs to be taken into consideration when designing a micro grid?
Our experience suggests the biggest challenge with micro grids is not the physical kit (solar panels, heat pumps and so on) it’s the way they are funded and managed. For example, should it be a company, not-for-profit enterprise or a co-operative? Should it be part of a bigger network? Should the people who are part of it be shareholders or just customers? How should the power it exports or imports be traded? These are the questions we need to be asking.