No new wires: world-first system to support renewables

Wind farm at sunset (world-first system)
Image: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

In what’s believed to be a first for any distribution network, Powercor is using a unique, world-first system to squeeze more large-scale renewables onto the grid, saving wind and solar farms potentially millions of dollars in connection costs.

Powercor has developed the real-time solution with industry partners, known as the High Voltage Distributed Energy Resource Management System (HV-DERMS), which allows new renewable generators to access existing network capacity more efficiently without requiring poles and wires upgrades.

The world-first system will provide future generators with access based on the dynamic capacity of the network, rather than its worst-case capability. This will allow more generators to connect and maximise use of the same network infrastructure.

The world-first system provides real time operating limits to dynamically adjust the energy output of generators depending on network conditions, which allows more clean energy projects to connect to the existing network.

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HV-DERMS started coming online in March and now includes 36 existing wind and solar generators totalling 1.07GW of capacity in the system.

The system will also reduce down-time for existing generators, helping to minimise disruption from outages or routine maintenance.

All new generator connections will be facilitated under HV-DERMS, with the ability to opt for a dynamic export limit to avoid infrastructure upgrades and reduce costs.

Powercor head of network planning Andrew Dinning said the system was supporting Victoria’s clean energy transition and carbon reduction targets by enabling more solar and wind connections within the capability of existing assets, with flexible exports.

“The system allows us to more easily and reliably control generation at all hours of the day to maximise both export and reliability if, for example, extreme weather conditions impact the network or we need to undertake critical maintenance.”

Dinning said similar approaches had already been adopted elsewhere on the low-voltage network, to coordinate rooftop solar or demand response, but only in limited settings for high voltage networks.

“We believe this is the first time a distribution network has adopted this level of real time dynamic control for large-scale renewables.

“This system will reduce the need for new renewable projects to have to spend millions of dollars to upgrade parts of the network that might only be limited for short periods in a year.”

Dinning said the system gives Powercor new capability and replaces existing manual methods of managing generation sites when output needs to be lowered for maintenance or other network disturbances.

It allows the network to operate safely and can still give generators a level of export during planned outages—something that only had limited availability previously.

The world-first system also allows the automatic and rapid restoration of generation following planned works, which is important to maximise customers’ ability to generate.

Enabling more renewable energy generation to be integrated is fundamental to the expanding role that distribution networks like Powercor are playing in the National Electricity Market (NEM).

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The transformation of the NEM demands that networks enable all forms of distributed energy including both residential systems and large-scale generators, to deliver a greater proportion of energy from renewable sources.

At the same, time Powercor is responsible for maintaining the system security and network stability in coordination with AEMO.

Dinning said Powercor is already planning significant investments in new technology and innovation to expand its network capabilities and customer choices, in line with its role as a distribution system operator.

“This is part of our work to unlock the full capacity of our networks,” he said.

“It’s through projects like HV-DERMS that we’re acting to maximise utilisation of our existing network for the benefit of generators and for our customers.”